Completing The Circle: Thoughts as a Consumer in the Age of Content

 

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I read news. I write news. I’m constantly in exchange with my close friends in texting conversations that may have never ended. I watch television, listen to music, use snapchat filters, emojis, online banking, email, all of it. I am whole-heartedly a consumer in the age of information.

I never saw this as a problem. I was participating in the world as it was laid out for me. I was an active and engaged member of both my own community and the world. I would retweet things I agreed with, liked YouTube videos that made me laugh or think.

But I have noticed a shift, in myself and in others. There is something different, about the world we are living in during this period of time, and I know, I think that is such a cliche too, but I don’t know if you feel it because I certainly do. I think the way we are consuming information isn’t necessarily the right way.

There is so much content and media — begging, luring, and demanding the attention of the audience’s views, shares and likes. For websites like The Odyssey, it’s their entire business plan: make content that is shareable. The Odyssey is maybe more noticeable because their writers are younger and more novice, but for every other website that is now the market strategy: make content that is shareable. The media’s intention as a consumer good feels more present. And it doesn’t seem right.

I recently read The Circle by David Eggers (which will be turned in to a blockbuster movie later this year, because of course more content).

Anyways, the book follows a young and idealist girl named Mae Holland as she starts a new job at the internet/tech company called The Circle. The Circle acts as users main interface to the web, its a social media account, a huge platform for shopping, and their main search engine.

Critics have said that Eggers’ novel missed the mark for how humans interact with social media, and in ways I agree with that criticism, but Eggers’ The Circle provides a fable for discussing the complicated and overwhelming entity of social media that is encircling and engaging within our daily lives more and more, and whose is encroach is confusing and intimidating.

In the near distant future world of The Circle, participants are willing give up their privacy, freedom and humanneThe Circless, steps at a time believing in the company’s mottos that “secrets are lies,” and “privacy is theft.” Company execs promote “completing The Circle,” or living in a world where every humans life is broadcast publicly and nothing is unknown, and those who resist either succumb to the influence of the company or are driven out.

In The Circle close to everything becomes public information, accessible to anyone at any time with 99 percent of public information actually laying untouched completely. For Mae and the other characters in Eggers’ world access to all of this information, really too much information makes them anxious, antsy, and glued to their devices always wanting more but never grasping nourishment.

Those feelings are all too relatable.

For one thing, this article itself will join the void of hundred if not thousands of others exploring the same concept.

But there is a natural craving for information and story, but our attention is being pulled in millions of different directions. Streaming has opened the door to an endless amount of television, in addition to millions of online videos, books, multiple social media platforms with even more content plastered all over begging your attention. It’s daunting, and exhausting.

This desire to gain reader attention, also means content producers need to invoke some sort of emotional response to gain your attention, your compulsion to share, and in the end your time and money.

Data shows content that evokes a high level of emotion such as awe, anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, humor, or wonder will likely gain our attention, get shared and go viral.

This can be exhausting for your emotions to be sent on a roller coaster each time you are on your Facebook feed, but it also means quality content can be passed up for the viral content. Stories shouldn’t have to be relatable or likable in order to be enjoyed. News shouldn’t have to be catered for its audience.

Because of my own frustration, the feeling of my own attention span diminishing and my own heightened sense of anxiety I have decided to go on an information diet.

Just as I encourage myself to eat healthy meals with nourishing and filling grains, vegetables and proteins  I am going to try do the same with my content consumption. No more binging on junk food content that leaves me only hungry and guilt-ridden.

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But, I admit my thoughts on this topic are still incomplete, so I am opening up this post as a platform for conversation.

I have been dwelling on the ideas of content, media and information all in the age of technology for weeks now and I feel like I have created more questions than answers.

Below are a few articles, videos, and what not that I recommend engaging with if this topic interests you or if you need other thought points. But I really want to hear your opinion. What are the merits to technology? Is technology encroaching too seriously in to our daily lives?

Hank Green (half of vlogbrothers and educational video creator) made a video about this phenomena commenting on the insane amount of media surrounding him at San Diego’s comic con.

Science and educational video creator Veritasium discussed his reasons for going on an information diet.

New York Magazine interviewed media makers on what is wrong with media. 

And of course, David Eggers’ The Circle.

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Are millennials too accustomed to terror?

Edited versions of this story have since been republished by Kicker and USA Today College — Please enjoy and thank you for your support!

It was a day just like any other in my little seven-year-old life. My mother walked me to my first grade class room, I was talking about the Junie B. Jones book I had just finished the whole way from my house to the class. It was warm for September.

After all the parents gave their kisses goodbye, my teacher got news. She gathered her small children on the rug where we would usually watch an afternoon Between the Lions or Magic School Bus — something to teach us that learning can be fun and reminding us to be kind to one other.

Covered in apple juice and playground sand, I watched the towers fall. At that moment learned for the first time there is truly evil in the world, and it is powerful.

At seven I felt compelled by it– compelled to do good and to inform others so they could do good.

I understood, the second I looked past my friends’ ambivalent faces toYou're (1) see the pure fear replacing my teacher’s usually sunny disposition, this is a serious and concerning time to be alive. But as a generation we are forced to see it as normal, a side effect of a world more connected. TV shows are reality competitions and the news is about terrorism, simple as that.

I don’t want to speak entirely for others and their experiences, but I can’t help but think as a young person growing up alongside terror, there is only so much our hearts and minds can absorb before we adapt.

I’m becoming numb to it. The evil in the world is winning.

On June 12, a gunman targeted an Orlando gay night club Pulse. He killed 49 people and injured another 53 in the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. to date. My reaction at the time, I’m ashamed to admit, was barely anything. After Paris I had cried, I hurt, I reached out to strangers in the city making sure they were safe. After Sandy Hook, I stayed in bed and watched the news on a loop.

After Orlando, I thought thank god it wasn’t here, doesn’t surprise me, and I went back to work.

That same week, in the same city, a little boy was killed when an alligator horrifically pulled him under the water. I felt so much sadness for the parents who had to watch their young boy knowing they couldn’t do anything to stop it. The father fought the alligator, but it wasn’t enough, it was out of his control.

I cried for them and tried to imagine what that would be like, and just the attempt to empathize with that sort of loss made me sob.

I thought about the time I was very little and almost fell out of the window in my parents apartment window. My mom caught me quickly enough, but even twenty years later she cries recalling the time she almost lost her baby girl to an accident. If my mom still hasn’t fully healed from an accident that never really happened, how can a person be okay after burying their baby.

The number 49 is too large.

At a point it stops seeming like people. Those 49 young men and women were babies were each born of a mother. There are mothers in Orlando grieving the loss of their babies like Lane Graves’ mother will.

And then on top of that, all those who were injured from being shot. Another 50. And all those in the room, witness to one of the most horrific scenes beyond imagination, at least another 50. And the members of the LGBTQIA+ community feeling threatened for who they love. The Latino community very clearly targeted. Millions more.

I feel evil for being numb to so much suffering; for continuing my life on and complaining about a late paycheck.

But it’s too overwhelming, there is too much of it. And it’s coming from us, that’s the worst part of all this.

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Young women remembering the victims of the Orlando Shooting. (WSKG/Twitter)

It’s easier to see an alligator as evil, but another human is so much harder. The shooter was a human who came from a mother and a father. He was a baby needing to be held, a curious toddler like Lane, and myself. He went through the same school system as the 49 people he murdered in cold blood. He was a customer at the club he shot up. He was gay himself.

He shot at the bodies on the ground to be sure they were dead.

It’s really impossible make the distinction of him vs. us. He is one of
us. We did this.

I don’t know what the appropriate course of action as a nation and world should be. I’m wary about the idea of banning assault rifles or those on the no-fly list because I think of what a noose the Patriot Act has been. But I do know, for myself and for my generation, it can’t be losing empathy.

We can’t disassociate, we can’t deny the reality of what is happening,
and we can’t let the evil win.

We need to be there for the people being hurt, but we also need to be okay with feeling the hurt ourselves.

Ignoring the infection only makes it spread.

Don’t ignore the infection, take action:

 

 

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Conquering my Hamartia

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

It’s nearly midnight; I am currently sitting on my bed (which is actually just a stolen mattress sitting directly on the floor). I am tired and worn out from midterms and the sleepless cramming, but I am also energized because I was able to finish everything despite my hamartia– which is of course my terrible procrastination. I have been a horrible procrastinator all of my life, I remember finishing my fifth grade state report with my mom in the wee hours of the night, falling asleep while coloring the Lark Bunting (the state bird of Colorado).

And honestly, I am sick and tired of it.

I am tired of the horrible fight I have with myself to accomplish something, and the agonizing weeks I spend putting it off and feeling guilty about it, just to cram all of my work into one crazy caffeinated night that sends my whole week into a spiral. I like being busy, and I do actually really like the rush of a productive and caffeine-induced work night, but I hate that I keep putting off things that I really want to do and accomplish because I am afraid of failure. I would like to be a journalist one day. To me, journalism seems like the perfect professionIMG_9939 that encompasses all of my passions and goals. Even when I was a little girl who imagined herself being any thing and every thing on giant spectrum of possibilities—from ballerina, to archeologist, to a taxi cab driver—the one job I always kind of realistically saw myself as, was some sort of journalist or writer. (I even made my own press pass that I keep on my windowsill now for motivation). It seems to me like the best way to use my skills to help and inform people.

I’ll be honest I really am not that great of a writer. I don’t mean to be self-deprecating, it is just the truth. I simply don’t put as much effort into practicing as I should, I have never really gotten the grasp of a three-prong thesis, and I overuse commas because whenever I read something out loud for people, I like the reassuring pause a comma grants me to protect me from embarrassing myself by slipping up on a word.But it has become increasingly aware to me, that besides going to school, I am doing nothing else to pursue that dream. I am not writing, I am not traveling, and even ever since I moved out of my home– my news intake has plummeted. I have considered applying for the school paper, but honestly, based on reading it, it feels like I would quickly become disheartened. I keep telling myself it just isn’t the right medium for me, I need something that isn’t as guarded, that isn’t just promotion for the school but actually a discussion of issues.

For almost two years, I have tossed around the idea of starting some sort of blog or vlog or website about news and writing. Every time I mention it to people, I act as though it is in the works, in the final stages of edit, almost ready to go out into public. It’s not, it hasn’t been. Just like with nearly everything else, just like with my fifth grade state report on Colorado, I have procrastinated and put it off. I procrastinate out of fear. I have an overwhelming need to be liked and affirmed, that the idea of creating something that I tried my best on that won’t be deserving of praise is crippling to me. And honestly, I am sick and tired of it. I am finally going to create this blog I have imagined for so long, and I have no real idea what the end product will be, what direction I will end up going—if I choose to dissect serious issues or end up writing more personally.

This is very scary for me, to actively send something out into the ether having no clue how it will change or be received, but it is finally time for me to put my foot down and start taking action. It is time for me to be brave and conquer my fears because achieving my dreams is only going to get harder and harder. So welcome! Welcome to my new space. Like I said, I don’t exactly know the specific direction of this site, but I do know I want it to be a place that nourishes intellectual thought, respect, and creativity. I promise to never gossip about celebrities or discuss something that I don’t think is interesting or important. I will also try to be sure to make a clear distinction between my own original thoughts and a compilation of the research and thoughts of people far smarter than me. If you disagree with anything I say, feel offended by anything, or feel differently on a subject: I welcome your input and I hope this can be a space for learning from one another and healthy and informative debate to occur. Thank you so much for even reading this far if you aren’t one of my parents or the people who I forced to read this with begging and pleading, and thank you of course to my parents and the people who I forced to read this because I love you. I am excited for this new project, for this new thing to exist in the Internet and for hopefully you all to be a part of it. Thank you once again. Allison Hollender.