Get Off Your Phone!


It’s a common sight at events, concerts, or attractions to see someone (or many someones) with their camera or phone firmly planted in front of their face, recording or snapping pictures for the entire experience. It is also a common sight to find blog posts, rants, and other forms of judgment telling everyone that this is the wrong way to enjoy your life. “Get off your phone! No one wants to see those pictures! You’re not experiencing the event, you’re just taking pictures!” There is a common sentiment that an unmediated version of reality is the best version of reality, and that if you’re taking pictures or video your mind is on how to capture the experience rather than on the experience itself. If you’re not 100% mentally and emotionally present, then you’re ruining your own experience!

The odd thing about this is that more often than not, those taking these pictures aren’t distracting anyone else. Their behavior is entirely irrelevant to the people who are upset with it. It simply has to do with how that individual is experiencing someone, a personal choice that is entirely their own. This need to police other people’s happiness is an impulse which is both incredibly self centered (other people need to do things the same way I do or they won’t be happy) and incredibly unhelpful.

Here’s the thing: everyone has different ways of experiencing the world, and everyone appreciates different things. We get happy in different ways. We engage with things in different ways. We are present in different ways. These individualities are why not all of us like to go to bars and not all of us like to play Dungeons and Dragons, but for some reason when technology is involved it’s no longer ok to have preferences but instead there must be a Right and a Wrong way to exist because otherwise technology will infiltrate our lives and destroy our human connections (or something).

For some people, taking pictures allows them to experience things in a more active way. They prefer not to simply be passive recipients of their experience, but want to think about how best to capture it, about the angles of light and the image of what’s going on. For some people, thinking about how they will capture the experience makes them think about what they want to remember in the future, and helps them focus on the things they like most about their experience. Some people just like taking pictures or videos and that is an additional enjoyable experience beyond whatever primary experience they may be happening.

And guess what? Even if you personally don’t want technology to be a part of your day to day experience because you find it makes you less present, that doesn’t mean that technology inherently pulls people out of their lives and pushes them into the “unreality” of the internet. Some people find that having their phone on and around is a distraction from the people they want to be with, where others (especially the introverted and socially anxious among us) find it a useful way to take a quick break from socializing when they need a mini recharge. The point is that people experience technology (as well as social situations) differently. In the past, if someone had a hard time being fully present in a situation with lots of people for a long time, all they could do was leave or just try to stick it out or maybe dissociate. Now there are more strategies they can employ through technology. They may be more visible, since someone taking out their phone is more obvious than someone simply zoning out and ignoring what’s happening around them, but people have always had ways to take a break from a current experience. All of us do it, and that is 100% ok. We don’t owe any place or person or experience all of ourself for the entire time we are there.

So please friends, take out your phones if you want, take those pictures, hide behind your camera or take that video because you want to watch it tomorrow. Let yourself disappear for a bit into technology or find new ways to love the concert you’re at by finding the perfect image to capture it. I want you to know what makes you smile, and that’s no one’s business but your own.


Activism Online and In Person


So this weekend at SkepTech (a conference about skepticism and technology), I was on a panel that addressed some of the differences between real world and online activism. I LOVED being on this panel, I thought I had some great co-panelists and I always love to speak in public about things that I love. I thought we got to some pretty interesting points about the fact that the internet and in flesh activism have different uses, different reasons, different motivations. But there were a couple things that we never got to touch on that I’d like to explore a bit here.


So one of the first things that I don’t think we touched on much is self-care. We talked a fair amount about how all sorts of things can be activism: it can be blogging or being open and out or being willing to talk and answer questions or it can be tabling…but one thing we didn’t really mention is something that as someone involved in mental illness I think is really really important. Taking care of yourself can be a radical action. If you are oppressed, or if you are struggling, or if you are marginalized, then getting through each day, staying healthy, staying as relatively happy as possible is activism. JT Eberhard mentioned that having fun can be an amazing form of activism for atheists because a stereotype of us is that we’re unfulfilled. This goes the same for taking care of yourself. Atheists who are well-adjusted and flourishing are the best advertising we can have.


And this goes for all sorts of oppressed groups as well: when society tells you that you don’t deserve space or you don’t deserve to exist or your existence is wrong and evil and horrible, you cultivating your existence, your space, and your joy is radical. There’s a fantastic Audre Lorde quote about this: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Many of us feel like we need to put our mental health or physical health to the side in order to do our activism. We feel that because this cause is important to us it might be more important than taking time for ourselves, or that we should feel guilty for not doing enough, or that we should always push ourselves harder. If we can reframe this instead to the idea that self-care is part of activism and that it’s simply one element of activism that we have to balance with all out other concerns (taking care of those in the movement, engaging with new people, opposing problems), we can be much more effective activists. We will have more energy and more strength when we do external activist work.


Another important piece of this panel was about managing online vs in person activism. One element of this that I forgot to address in the panel (oops) is that as an introvert, I am extremely picky about who I socialize with. Often, if I go to a group and there’s someone who rubs me the wrong way or who insults me for my major or who I feel I have to educate about racial and gender issues, I probably won’t go back. Now I could go through the effort of figuring out how to get along with this person, but I’m trying to work on my self-care activism and so I just won’t right now. Online I get a lot more control over who I interact with. I can turn off my computer if I want. I can block people. No one cares enough about me to email me yet, so I can pretty well decide who I want to talk to by choosing who to friend or follow or read. That’s really important for me. That gives me the space to stop those triggering and upsetting conversations when they are too much for me. That lets me set my boundaries on any given day where I need them to be. If you want to be a part of a group, all the good people automatically come with all of the less pleasant people.


While for some people exposure to all sorts of people is what draws them to in person activism, others of us want more protection and might prefer online activism. Online activism also gives us access to probably the widest variety of opinions, if we choose to seek them out. It is the best tool for educating yourself as an activist and as a human being simply because you can read about and learn about so many different human experiences.


Another interesting part of this dichotomy is that I think it’s drawn far too sharply. At this event, for example, the hashtag was projected in the room so that everyone could see what people were tweeting about the event. I don’t think this technology got used to its full potential. A lot of people were simply tweeting the hashtag with summing up the information that was being presented. I preferred to use it to interact with what was going on, to ask questions, to make rebuttals. I think if more people used it in BOTH of these ways, it can bring together in person and online activism in a really interesting way by making the in person experience more interactive and by allowing others who are not there in person to see some of the event. Beyond that, I also feel it gives those of us who might be a bit more introverted a way to jump into some of the in person activities that were taking place. I think that integrating technology into in person events is a wonderful way to bridge the gap and give us some of the benefits of both.


And the final point that I was interested in is kids. I sort of think that children are natural activists. When they get upset about something they want to do something about it: they’re still idealistic enough to think they can change the world. But even more than that, kids haven’t internalized oppressions the way adults have (young kids primarily, this applies less and less the older a kid gets). As JT said in the panel, everything that we do that is NOT oppression or is behaving in a way that doesn’t conform to oppression/gender roles/racial roles/etc is activism. Kids do this ALL THE TIME. We have to teach our kids hatred and how to oppress each other. Not explicitly of course, but we give them lessons through our own behavior. I think we start out with a generation that doesn’t oppress because they haven’t learned it. If we can hold on to some of that state of simply NEVER learning oppression, we could make huge differences in our future. Because every time someone acts in a way that challenges a gender role, it is activism. While we don’t necessarily feel the impacts of it when kids do it (primarily because of some stupid ageist bullshit), we should recognize that often we start out naturally as activists.


I’m not 100% sure about this theory, but I think it could have merits. Thoughts in the comments?