Friday, June 26, 2009

5th day without Internet


A great exercise to do, is this, go outside or go into a large room and put your hand in front of your face about a foot away. Stare at your palm for 10 seconds, then pull it away and feel the shift. That is the best way I can describe physically and mentally what it has been like to unplug from technology this week. Unfortunately that also meant I had to write this whole thing by hand and later transcribe it. But that feeling when your hand pulls away and your eyes ease into the landscape around you, is profound and important to remember, since so many of us are plugged into technology, like our hand close range, all the time.

I would have been the first to admit I was a facebook addict, I really was. It got to the point where I was thinking in status updates, and taking pictures specifically for facebook. I was unable to appreciate anything without thinking, oh I should share this on facebook. Whether it was an article I had read, a youtube video, picture of my son... it all seemed to be framed with the need to share. It became so intense with daily connections, that when I deactivated my facebook profile for the first time a few weeks ago, I received text messages from several friends within less than ½ an hour, asking why I had defriended them, did they do something wrong, offend me? I reactivated my facebook less than two hours later. That was my first step in pulling away, and seeing that I was a little immersed, hell who am I kidding? I was in over my head in the online culture that I had originally wanted to objectively research for grad. School.

I found in the beginning a sense of exhilaration and connection being a part of this online social community, and it was quite a high. I was connecting with old elementary and high school friends, college friends, and even both close and distant relatives. I was blown away that I was able to know what my friends and family were doing on a daily basis. How cool it was to know my best friend from 4th grade, Serena, was sledding with her son today, while my old boyfriend Josh from the 8th grade was surfing in Costa Rica, while my little sister just branded her first cow out on a ranch in Montana. It was hyper-connection and I loved it.

I was connected on facebook, but I didn't stop there, I was on myspace, my yahoo email, twitter, indaba a music collaboration website and the acid planet music website several times a day, for hours at a time. I loved it so much I would ignore the people in the room sitting right next to me. I loved it so much I was unable to sleep many nights. I loved it so much I would sometimes forget to eat, I would use whole days bouncing from facebook, to myspace to checking my email to collaborating music with people around the world. My life was all in front of me inside a box in my house. That digital box became my world.

The part that was most alarming to me recently, and why I am “detoxing” from the internet, was when I found myself quickly unable to focus on my school work, my housework, and even my seven year old son. I was feeling tired and stressed out, and starting feeling more disconnected than connected. I know of a few studies that have been done on this type of online addiction and I believe this will eventually become another 12 step like program, like alcoholism and gambling, for our fix it culture. I have not honestly looked to far into scholarly research on online addiction, nor do I feel the need to at this time, plus I am trying to stay offline. But I think sites like facebook that create online additive traits are just a symptom of a larger social epidemic. I cannot say what that would be exactly, but in my humble opinion I would say it has to do with the disconnect of our society which has replaced authenticity with commercialism and unrealistic ideals.

You see, there was something comforting to me about being connecting daily with others without having to leave my house, being a single mom in a small town can be isolating at times. Being a parent can be isolating, but let's be real here, just being a human in this world can be isolating. It was comforting to know that Fred was having leaky pipes in his bathroom, Shari was stressed out about making her rent, and Lisa's toddler was sick again for the third time this month. It was reality, as real as it can get in the forum of mass media, since there were no cameras, or scripts, just each of us at home on our computer sharing our real world. To me, that was beautiful.

I am not sure what else I can write at this point and be objective, but I can say since Friday, (it being only Tuesday) that I have already gone through a range of emotions. The first day I unplugged I felt calm, but a little nervous that others would think I was being rude or ignoring them. I even disconnected from my cell phone for the weekend, so that I would not engage in even texting or “accidentally” checking my email. I felt on the second day, I was missing out on something, that my friends would forget about me, and that I would lose “fans” for my music, which I had been promoting online, this was both irrational and irrelevant, not to mention kind of pathetic in retrospect only 3 days later.

I then went through a bout of resistance and anger, and cursed all those around me who were plugged in, surfing online, talking on their cell phones, grooving out on their ipods, shutting out the real world passing by them. I noticed most of the people walking the streets were talking on their cell phones or texting, all with the same zoned out look on their face. I knew under my rebellious angst I was just feeling envious and missing my own personal technology zone. Like I said I love technology, I crave it. My hand is cramping without it.

I think one of the reasons being in the zoned out tech world is so appealing, is in that world, we each get to be King. I get to be King. I get to be my own star of the show, whether on facebook or myspace, they both are the perfect stage for a somewhat reclusive, introspective, somewhat antisocial person, as well as for a social butterfly. I get to say what I want, and I can say anything at all. In the tech zone I am in a world of words and with words comes a power, that in a social face to face setting are not always as easy to come up with. It's like having the chance to go back and say every funny, smart, witty, or sarcastic comeback you have ever wanted to say. There is even quick access to spell check, the thesaurus and dictionaries online, not to mention google searches, if you want to be really crafty, intelligent or just look literate. .

But the goal of my research was originally to see how online communities, particularly music communities have effected musicians and the world of music. I was also looking at online musical collaborations, and how this has changed the ways in which musicians connect and create together. I found that in the process of researching both these questions, I became a member of the culture, I became my research, I lost perspective, and was fully immersed.

I learned that researching myspace as a way to promote my music, while observing other musicians and how they used this site became a vast and unending territory to explore. See, the world online does not have boundaries. Not in the way that you need a passport and mode of transportation like you do to get from country to country. I could be listening to a musician in Mexico and at the click of my computer mouse I was listening to a musician in Ireland. I think at this point in time myspace has over a million musicians signed on ( I cannot google it for accuracy at this point), I know this forum had indeed changed music, musicians, the world of music, but exactly how, I can not tell you, cause I honestly do not know. I am too close to the scene, I am too close to my research, and this is why I have had to unplug. The movement online is so large, so encompassing, so overwhelming. I started to feel like my research was a cup of water spilled into the Sahara desert, ineffective.

This slippery slope into total immersion started to happen about half way through my 2rd semester, when I decided to transition into a more personal research model. I was going to be my own test dummy. I was going to experiment with my own research ideas using myself. I knew it would be a somewhat unethical, potentially narcissistic venture, but I was unable to see any other way at the time. I was not particularly comfortable with asking a musician to put there career on the line (literally) for a grad. student's research project. I was pretty much burned out on the idea of ever “making it” as a musician and figured the worst thing that could happen was that I would experience a little public exploitation, potential humiliation but most of all get my thesis done.

I went ahead and dove full force into the experiment. I first put out to my online communities, facebook in particular that I could make a song up on the spot for any of my “friends” about anything topic they would like. I had a few people take me up on this, while the “rest”(although we never know exactly who watches and doesn't, which is a whole other topic to be further discussed.) watched, as I presented videos of myself singing at home in front of my webcam. It was a lot of fun, and I was able to actually pull off a few good tunes. I also made videos capturing my struggles working on a new song, sharing the process of the creation. I did emotionally let it all hang out, and at times would feel my cheeks burn in the middle of the night, wondering who just watched me, if anyone at all, make a spectacle of myself.

I decided to be completely open, and put everything about myself out there. I found the musicians I most connected with online so far in my other semesters seemed to be down to earth, approachable, emotionally raw and open about their daily life events. I went ahead and posted pictures of myself posed, candid, heavy makeup to nature girl. I experimented with my image, changing my profile picture often, leaving status updates ranging from deep poetic quotes to the mundane choirs I was doing like the dishes... It didn't matter what I said, but I tried to make it always interesting enough to make people notice. I felt sometimes manipulative, and even exaggerated my where abouts or what I was doing to sound over the top, but never lied. I tried to present an exciting larger than life lifestyle, while remaining true to the reality of my settings. A good example of this is later on in my research I was going down to NYC a lot. My status updates focused on the recording I was doing at Fire Escape Studios. I was staying at my friends, making music in his apartment, which happened to have a kick ass fire escape we would hang out on between recording on his computer. I didn't lie, but rather only presented the “success” of the situation “recording in a studio in NYC”, in the framework of “making it” for a musician.

Another interesting realization I had in regards to being so open online, is that you will never know exactly who is reading, watching, and observing your every action online. There are privacy settings for sites like facebook, although you still do not know which of your friends are reading your posts unless they comment, or give you a thumbs up. As far as I know myspace is open to all. I decided to first put my facebook profile with no privacy settings at all, and left it open to any facebook member. With no privacy settings on, if you had a facebook account, you could have known all about me. I have no regrets in doing this, although I would never suggest anyone to do this, ever. I believe that in the process of being open and exposed I lost a little of my integrity and some of the mystery I crave in others. I mean come on, when in history ever before could we know things like someone's religion, political affiliation, favorite music, favorite movie, even their birth date, before ever meeting them in person? I suppose in the form of gossip or a mutual friend this did and does still occur, but not at the mass scale today. I am not sure how I feel about this form of “tell-all” connecting just yet, but I do think it is something to take into consideration for further social research.

The general question these past days on this hyper information age that keeps running through my mind, is whether it is stopping us from real life connections, and connecting with others who are not like us? are we actually suffering because of the ability to pick and choose our “friends” as opposed to in the real world we have less ability to pick and choose who we come into contact with physically, at work, in a store, the supermarket, etc... and they do not have a profile for you to read. I have witnessed people defriend others for not having the same opinion as them online, like the old saying goes “never discuss politics or religion with your friends”... I just don't know if our tolerance has grown better or worse for others unlike us. This is something I personally am looking at, since the majority of my friends online are from the middle class white educated American stock, plus I do not even know most of my neighbors, nor am I involved with my community all that much since I was laid off from my job working for the local public library.

Like I mentioned before the online social world is a large territory to research, to large to conclude anything that could ever cover all the varying grounds of this new social virtual world. I am starting to believe that just like we have different countries around the world, we have different countries within the digital world. Although we cannot map it out, or make a globe of it yet to spin on our desks, I believe it is a completely separate living breathing world. I have been told by my professors and other grad students that this type of research is so new, that I should narrow it down. I would love to narrow it down, but to what I am not sure yet. One grad.student friend of mine suggested I write my thesis on the music of Sesame Street and how it affected our generation, great idea, but why bother when I have already landed in this new world. I want to fucking yell out, so what if I don't graduate, so what if it takes me years to get a conclusive grasp on this online world. This is where the energy is at, this is new ground to break, and this is where I want to be. I am a digital anthropologist, lost in a virtual world. Yes, it is going to be harder for me to write my papers, and make sense of this chaos, plus there are no longitude studies on the effects of online communities to draw from. I know it is going to be harder for me to write a thesis on a new development in our world. Believe me there are times I wish I had just decided to write my thesis on English Literature, or Classical Music, with my head stuck in books written over the past couple of hundred years, immersed in notating and quoting scholars who paved the path before me. Instead, I have had my head in the computer, searching for scholarly journal articles written in the past month or two on anything to do with online communities, musicians, and technology. Immersing myself like an anthropologist in a new strange world, my research khakis and safari hat replaced with a flat screen and mouse.

Like I said I am only 5 days out of the digital landscape. I am sure the observations I have made thus far are somewhat skewed and emotionally biased. Some of it may be pretty accurate, although no where near objective.

A general overview of my research with online communities and music collaboration is comething I am trying to formulate and make sense out of at this point. I experimented in music sharing, posting, promoting, and collaborating all online and feel overall using the internet, and more specifiically online communties highly effective. Using the internet as a tool as a musician who want to gain a wider fan base, connect with other musicians, and even collaborate works. I tried everything from recording a song a day for the week, and heavily promoting it, to fully covering every step of my travels to LA to sing for an independent film and play, with pictures, videos and status updates sharing my journey. I acted like a star, lived like a star, and in some ways fell like a star, luckily.

I have also had a lot of interesting personal contacts in a world much larger than my own small town. I connected with the founder of one of the largest online music distribution companies, we became good friends and he flew me to Hawaii and LA to hang out with him. I was flown out to LA, later in the semester to sing, which came about from a facebook connection. I also made a great friend and connection after he asked me to collaborate with him musically on facebook. He saw one of my music videos done on my webcam, that was posted on a mutual friends site. He has his own TV show in NYC, is an “independent wall street rebel” (that's what I call him). I have created and recorded over 20 songs with him on the weekends, most of which will be a major part of my final thesis on online collaborations using music and video to create social change.

I find value in the connections I have made, I am grateful for the way a single mom in a small town can connect with a film producer in LA, a successful online entrepreneur, and a TV anchorman and musician, all while sitting in my living room. That is cool, and a huge thumbs up for social networking sites in my opinion.

In regards to my own music, I have had over 30,000 views of myspace music site. I have grown and developed my craft of songwriting and improvisational songwriting this year. I have made connections outside just my own town, and local music scene. I have recently connected with a successful producer who wants to record some of those experimental “song a day” songs with me, although I did not meet him online, but rather while sitting at a local park with my guitar working on a new song. I work for a local recording studio now, in an old library building, and the owner works for the Rolling Stones, this was a chance meeting in real life as well. I was in Keith Richards house yesterday, getting a drum kit out of his basement for my job. I would have loved to have had that as a status update on facebook, that would have been so freaking cool. I know, I know... my ego can be hungry and a real show off.. But I feel calm about this today, I have a “peaceful, easy, feeling” about it all, since I know a status update won't change the fact I am doing what I am doing as I am doing it plus my experiences this year have taught me more than I can ever fully describe without writing another separate thesis on perception and attitude.



3 comments:

Derek Sivers said...

Congrats, Laura. I'm really proud of you. I love your insights into this, too.

You know I was always a little worried about the Facebook-addict aspect, and I'm so glad you were able to kick it.

Dave said...

This is insightful and interesting. Not too many people have written about this. My only thought kinda was: Why is the "school" paradigm deemed so necessary? Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc, dropped out of college. To some extent, school can be about exploring yourself, sharing with others, etc -- but, I wonder if the structure of it, too, has become something we don't question enough. Why do potential employers *care* if you have a degree? Maybe they don't. The farther along you get, the less it seems to matter. Meanwhile, I'd love it if you got back to doing any song challenges or just posting. A lot of us would But I totally respect the distance of not doing it, too. And appreciate you sharin' this.

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