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For Christmas, I received an iPad Mini.

It’s both the best and worst gift I’ve ever received.

My iPad has become my best friend, and I feel lost without it.

It’s a MACHINE.

In the fall, when I was in sensory overload, my online consumption was pretty limited.  I couldn’t stand being in front of a screen for hours at a time.  And I LOVED it because I felt in control of my need to compulsively check my Facebook account, even if that control had actually been wrested away from me by my anxiety.

Regardless, I still felt connected to the world, and I realized that life indeed could go on without a constant WiFi/3G connection.

Then I got the iPad.  Ever since, my Internet use has skyrocketed to new levels.

Needless to say, I was intrigued to read this piece by Paul Miller, entitled “I’m still here: back online after a year without the Internet.”  I find it difficult to go 12 hours without checking my email, so I can’t imagine going a year without Facebook, etc.

These quotes sum up the gist of the article:

I was wrong.

One year ago I left the internet. I thought it was making me unproductive. I thought it lacked meaning. I thought it was “corrupting my soul.”

It’s a been a year now since I “surfed the web” or “checked my email” or “liked” anything with a figurative rather than literal thumbs up. I’ve managed to stay disconnected, just like I planned. I’m internet free.

And now I’m supposed to tell you how it solved all my problems. I’m supposed to be enlightened. I’m supposed to be more “real,” now. More perfect.

But instead it’s 8PM and I just woke up. I slept all day, woke with eight voicemails on my phone from friends and coworkers. I went to my coffee shop to consume dinner, the Knicks game, my two newspapers, and a copy of The New Yorker. And now I’m watching Toy Story while I glance occasionally at the blinking cursor in this text document, willing it to write itself, willing it to generate the epiphanies my life has failed to produce.

I didn’t want to meet this Paul at the tail end of my yearlong journey.

What I do know is that I can’t blame the internet, or any circumstance, for my problems. I have many of the same priorities I had before I left the internet: family, friends, work, learning. And I have no guarantee I’ll stick with them when I get back on the internet — I probably won’t, to be honest. But at least I’ll know that it’s not the internet’s fault. I’ll know who’s responsible, and who can fix it.

It’s depressing.  I’ve often thought the same thing: if I could just unplug from the Internet, I’d solve all of my problems.  But the problem isn’t the Internet; the problem is me.

 A couple of weeks ago I read Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.  It’s an interesting account of how technology has changed our brains and our ability to access information throughout history.  It begins with the introduction of writing, through the discovery of the book, then Gutenberg’s printing press and onward to our current Internet-infested lives.  It’s a stunning revolution when you think about it.  Carr points out how our brains have changed with each successive technological leap; how we’ve adapted and evolved to the influx of new information.  My reading of Carr is that he seems confident that we will be able to do so again in this new technology age, but that it will take some time.  Plus, we need to start controlling technology rather than letting it control us.

The book is a bit technical at times (like when he describes exactly how our neurons fire), but it’s a thorough examination of how we’ve come to this point.

Carr ‘s analysis substantiates pretty much everything we’ve suspected about the Internet: it has decreased our attention spans, it has allowed us to stop exercising our memory muscles, and that it causes a lot of groupthink rather than engaging us in more critical thinking.  And that’s to say nothing of the social and societal consequences of all of this.

But that’s not to say that the Internet is bad in and of itself.  Like anything, moderation is the key.  Yet is moderation possible when society is increasingly being built with instantaneous communication in mind?  How can we unplug when we’re expected to have our cell phones on at all times, when we have to sort through mountains of email or information to find an answer, when our friends expect us to ‘Like’ their status updates on Facebook, or when social media management is a seeming requirement of everyday life?  It’s tough.

When pervasive Internet and email use is a given in nearly every job these days, it’s up to us to ensure that our personal lives don’t end up the same way.  For awhile, I managed to stop all online media consumption after 7 PM.  I also tried to stay away from my cell phone and didn’t watch TV.  I tried to take a ‘technology Sabbath,’ but wasn’t terribly successful.  Why?  Mostly because I didn’t know what else to do without my iPad in hand.  And I think that’s the problem: we don’t know how to relax anymore.  We don’t know how to be bored.  We don’t know how to sit in the silence and be still.  We only know how to be plugged in.

For me, that’s the real problem with the Internet.  It makes me feel like I’m constantly missing out on something if I don’t have access to my Google Reader.  It makes me think that I need to be connected when I really don’t.  It doesn’t let me relax; it’s addicting.  But it’s up to me to decide how I use the Internet, at least when I’m not at work.

I’m starting to think that moderating my Internet use is akin to exercise and healthy eating: I know it’s good for me and that I’ll feel healthier in the long run, but society is built for convenience and instant gratification so I have to make a conscious choice everyday to do what’s best for me.

But that feels like a lot of work.  Maybe I’ll just check my Facebook account instead.

The best thing about having a DVR is that I no longer have to watch all of those commercials for ‘Hannibal’ or ‘The Following’ or whatever horror movie is on its way to a theater near me.

I am increasingly angered that we are being subjected to such violence and gore, but I am particularly incensed that violence is tolerated at increasingly grotesque levels in the media, particularly against women, while swearing and nudity continue to be taboo.

For instance, this past weekend the Junos were on CTV, a broadcast network.   There was a viewer discretion warning during every commercial break prior to returning to the Juno broadcast. Every commercial break.  Last night,  a beaten and bloodied woman was tied to a rack and then dismembered ALIVE during the first few moments of a ‘Hawaii Five-O’ episode and there was no warning. None.

Last summer, I went to see ‘The Hunger Games.’  That movie was rated PG-13.  Prior to the start of the movie, a trailer for a horrifying thriller ran, which scared the living daylights out of me (although it doesn’t take a lot to scare me).  Why must such terrifying trailers be run before a movie aimed at CHILDREN?

Last year, the film ‘Bully,’ a documentary about bullying, was initially rated R.  The film’s director fought, and eventually successfully appealed, the classification since he wanted the movie to be able to be viewed in schools.  It was eventually rated PG-13.

‘Blue Valentine’ received an NC-17 rating, the strongest rating, due to one oral sex scene, even though there was no violence in the movie.  The film’s production company successfully appealed the rating and the movie was subsequently rated R.

What’s the moral of these stories: bad words and boobs are bad, while violence is AWESOME.

Remember Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction?  People freaked out over the prime time showing of a nipple.  A NIPPLE.  Come on – 50% of the world’s people each have a pair.  Yet we don’t have a problem showing all kinds of violence against women of increasingly disgusting proportion just so we can watch our favourite actors use technology that no police department has to  solve crimes and have the odd romantic entanglement.

It’s just so hypocritical.  Jon Stewart, as always, says it best. (and of course you can’t watch the video in Canada because our networks can’t seem to make previous seasons available, and we’re much more worried about copyright laws than the proliferation of violence throughout the media).

Not only do I have a problem with the constant violence on TV.  I have a problem with who that violence is directed towards.  A lot of the time, violence on TV is directed at women.  But simple violence isn’t enough; usually the women has to be degraded, beaten, bloodied, maimed, raped, dismembered, etc.

WHY??

I mean, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council recognizes that violence against women is such a problem in reality that it has its own code regarding it:

7.1 Broadcasters shall not telecast programming which sanctions, promotes or glamorizes any aspect of violence against women.

7.2 Broadcasters shall ensure that women are not depicted as victims of violence unless the violence is integral to the story being told. Broadcasters shall be particularly sensitive not to perpetuate the link between women in a sexual context and women as victims of violence.

These are pretty broad provisions, and I’d think the second is violated on an almost nightly basis.

I agree that there is a major difference between what is referred to as ‘torture porn’ (e.g. the ‘Saw’ franchise) and the usual violence (I hate to use this phrase, but unfortunately it’s true) depicted against women in NCIS, CSI, etc.  And yes, violence against women on shows like ‘Law & Order: SVU’ can be “compelling” and educational.  But the fact is that violence against women on TV has skyrocketed.

In 2009, the Parents Television Council, a hardcore conservative organization that I would not normally take seriously, released an important report which found that:

  1. Incidents of violence against women and teenage girls are increasing on television at rates that far exceed the overall increases in violence on television.  Violence, irrespective of gender, on television increased only 2% from 2004 to 2009, while incidents of violence against women increased 120% during that same period.
  • The most frequent type of violence against women on television was beating (29%), followed by credible threats of violence (18%), shooting (11%), rape (8%), stabbing (6%), and torture (2%).  Violence against women resulted in death 19% of the time.
  • Violence towards women or the graphic consequences of violence tends overwhelmingly to be depicted (92%) rather than implied (5%) or described (3%).
  1. Every network but ABC demonstrated a significant increase in the number of storylines that included violence against women between 2004 and 2009.
  1. Although female victims were primarily of adult age, collectively, there was a 400% increase in the depiction of teen girls as victims across all networks from 2004 to 2009.
  1. Fox stood out for using violence against women as a punch line in its comedies — in particular Family Guy and American Dad — trivializing the gravity of the issue of violence against women.
  1. From 2004 to 2009 there was an 81% increase in incidences of intimate partner violence on television.

I can only imagine what the statistics would show since that report was released; no doubt they’d have increased again significantly.  What happened to character-driven shows?  ‘Mad Men’ seems to be the only show currently airing that’s both critically-acclaimed and rarely displays violence.

There’s something so profoundly wrong with us when we’re far more worried about our kids seeing someone else’s naked body, which I think has resulted in so much of the body shaming and body issues that we all have today, than we are with the prevalent violence we see after 7 pm.  Then again, what type of entertainment do we expect from a country whose Senators are much more concerned with using every possible tool they have to prevent increasingly-rare terrorist strikes than with implementing urgently needed gun control legislation?

It’s amazing that 15 years ago, there was so much hubbub about this Dixie Chicks’ song and its violent message.  Ironic, eh?

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