When I was about 8 or 9 years old, we heard that a chapter of the KKK planned to hold a white supremacy rally in my small Midwestern town. Whether this was planned or just rumored I’m not sure, but we took the threat seriously.
Back in November, I wrote a blog post about how much the internet has taken over our lives, and never got around to Part 2. I couldn’t figure out where to go from there—until I ran across the recent article “Why 80’s Babies Are Different Than Other Millennials,” and realized that 80s babies are actually the secret weapon to figuring out this modern technology conundrum.
No, seriously. I’m becoming convinced that my generation of Millennials—the earliest Millennials, the 80s born-and-raised Millennials—are the Rosetta Stone needed to decode this mess of technology vs. real-world experience. If you’ve ever said, “I need and love technology, but I kind of miss using my legs to walk around, and I haven’t seen a human face since Christmas,” then find yourself someone who was born between 1977 and 1985.
The article that clued me into this (and which I will reference as the source of many of my ideas) has this to say about 1980s babies:
A big part of what makes us the square peg in the round hole of named generations is our strange relationship with technology and the Internet. We came of age just as the very essence of communication was experiencing a seismic shift, and it’s given us a unique perspective that’s half analog old school and half digital new school.
The article is a nostalgic backwards look at what it means to come of age during the technology revolution—not before, not after, but during. I belong to that group. Our childhood was analog, our adulthood is digital, and the teen years were a mix.
Due to our unique place on this timeline, I believe 80s babies have an intrinsic understanding of how to balance technology and the rest of life in a healthy way.
We may not realize we have this knowledge. We may not always live it out. But we were forged in the analog fires, toughened through the gauntlet of 90s chat rooms, and came as adults to the sandstorm of social media—our past and our instincts can, and will, tell us how to appreciate and use technology without being eaten alive by it.
So let’s review what we’ve learned, shall we?
80s Babies Lesson 1: The Internet Should Be An Event, Not A Lifestyle
We were the first group of kids who grew up with household computers, but still novel enough to elicit confusion and wonder.
Remember when the computer was a fun new diversion? Most families had one, and getting on the internet was a once-per-day event. You removed yourself from the main flow of household activity and went to the computer station (in my house, the dining room), listened to the dial-up screeee at you for awhile, and did your inter-netting for the day. If you had permissive parents, you might be allowed up to two hours of inter-netting, but then they really did need the phone back. If you had siblings, like my husband did, everyone got an allotment of inter-netting per week (and learned how to beg, borrow, and steal each other’s minutes).
You signed off, and then you were done.
No answering e-mail endless times. No five-hour chat session that waxed and waned with your attention span. No looking things up throughout the evening as they occurred to you. The internet was a thing you had to go to at certain times.
This made the internet feel like a hobby, or a specific tool. You fitted it into your schedule and spent the rest of the day doing other things. You knew exactly how much time you’d devoted to it.
Today, the internet is ever-present. Between computers, phones, and tablets, it’s no longer an event, but the background of life. But it’s a crappy background. Most of us can’t even begin to tally up the random minutes we spend checking it throughout the day, and we give away with both hands massive amounts of time to its hungry maw.
(Do you know how long I’ve waited to use the phrase “hungry maw” in a blog post?)
And though this has been said a lot, it bears repeating—one consequence is that you can remove yourself from the flow around you at any moment, for any length of time. Disappearing into the computer room used to be a decision, a noticeable decision that your parents or spouse or kids could hound you about. A haze of distraction about your phone or laptop that never completely dissipates is much harder to combat.
The 80s Instincts Kick In
So what do we do about this? Here are some humble suggestions for making the internet an event again instead of a lifestyle.
- Choose a time and place to use the internet at home. Keep the laptop or tablet at a desk or table. Go to that spot for internet-related tasks, then shut the computer off and leave.
- Maybe actually turn it off, too, as opposed to sleeping or hibernating. This recreates the sense of inconvenience we used to feel about constantly jumping on and off.
- Consider what internet “background noise” you can cut. I’m trying to replace Youtube videos with book reading during meals and bedtime routine. The other day, I turned on the radio instead of Netflix while I worked on my graphic novel pages. Find small things you can replace with “real-life” events.
- If your hobbies necessitate the computer, can you still turn off the WiFi to get them done? For instance, when writing a blog post, I could copy and paste what I need to quote from other articles, then spend some quality time with my Word Processor without Twitter peering over my shoulder every three minutes.
- Set boundaries for your phone. Choose a location for it to live, and leave it there. Go to that place to deal with calls and notifications, rather than carrying the phone from room to room. (If you need to take the phone with you when going upstairs or downstairs, make one phone location for each level of the house).Make your phone space feel like a temporary work station rather than a place to settle in—this cuts the temptation to wait around for a text or idly surf the web. Remember when phones used to hang next to the kitchen doorway? Yeah. No one stood there waiting for a call, unless you were 15 and had a new boyfriend.
- Let notifications build up. You don’t have to check every noise your phone makes. You don’t have to sit with your finger hovering over the Facebook notification icon. Set a couple of times to check these things, and limit yourself to that. Better yet, do what I did this week and announce that you will only use your social media account for event invites and private messages.
- Tell close friends and loved ones to call if it’s important or time-sensitive. Tell them you won’t be responding to texts and social media as quickly, so if they need something right away, calling is best. Then you won’t have to spring at every text and babysit your social media account to keep from missing things.
These tips may be easier said than done. It may mean a lifestyle change in some areas. But we must set boundaries on how much of our lives the internet can invade. If we reach the point where the internet (rather than us) decides that it will be the background, and we have no say, then the robot takeover has already begun!
Come back on Friday (or use the Subscribe button above) for 80s Babies Lesson 2: Technology May Need Boundaries, But It’s Pretty Wonderful.
I’m not pulling punches on this one.
I was incredibly sad to see Robin Williams go this week. It’s even more terrible and tragic that his death came at his own hand. And it’s even worse that some people called him a coward, or belittled his supposed lack of willpower in powering through life. I’d like to see some of these people spend 63 years in constant mental pain and then see who’s the coward.
There’s been some talk in the Christian blogosphere (from bloggers who I won’t link to because it would only increase their traffic and reward their unloving, click bait behavior) to the effect that depression is a spiritual malady best treated with joyful thoughts, and that too much talk of brain chemistry and medical treatment is a modern distraction. Christians should, so these people say, view suicide as a conscious choice to reject all the good in this world, and the rest of us should therefore place suicide victims outside the “victim” category because it was really just their own selfish choice.
Despite all the available information about the medical side of depression, I’m upset to see so many people sharing these sentiments and going right along with them. The lack of nuance in the conversations is worrying the bejeebers out of me, and I’d like to have a chat about it with you.
Modern psychology has known for awhile now that depression is a complex animal with many factors. Life circumstance, habits of thought, brain chemicals, and physical ailments can all contribute to depression, and each might be explored as part of a treatment plan to alleviate it. As a Christ follower, I also believe that spirituality interacts with our depression. But then, as a Christ follower, I believe that all our experiences have a spiritual component to them, so this is almost as obvious as saying that the meaning of life has a spiritual component to it, or that the love for a child has a spiritual component to it. As we used to say back in the 90s, “Duh!”
Yet some people take this further, stretching the implications of this truth way too far. They get suspicious of medication and psycotherapy as real answers, stressing instead the need for God’s joy and spiritual healing as the “real” answer over and against the “false” answer of depression as a medical condition. This makes little sense to me. Saying that we should downplay the role of brain chemistry in depression just because we know a spiritual component exists is like saying that a cancer patient should downplay chemo just because we know that nutrition helps fight cancer, too.
Christians accept the role of medicine alongside faith in just about every other type of ailment, without seeing the two as being pitted against each other. Mention a serious ailment like Lukemia, AIDS, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s, and most Christians will immediately say “I’ll pray for you,” indicating that faith and prayer are part of the healing. Those same people would not, however, say, “I’ll pray for you, so that means you don’t need to take your medication or follow your doctor’s orders.” Rather, they accept that faith, prayer, and modern medicine are going to work together in harmony–not competition.
It seems that some of the bloggers and nay-sayers who talk about depression are assuming that if feelings are happening inside your head, rather than outwardly on your body or organs, then those feelings can’t possibly be tied to physical processes; they’re all spiritual. And we know from science that it’s simply more complex than that. There are physical and spiritual forces at play in our brains; thus you need physical and spiritual healing to deal with it.
Next up–what’s with this insistence that enough faith and enough joy will allow or facilitate healing from depression? Isn’t that dancing at the edge of being a prosperity gospel, one in which God rewards you like a slot machine for putting in enough Faith or Joy tokens?
When I was 17, someone apparently entered my name in the Anxiety Lottery without my permission, and sadly, my number was picked. I became the lucky recipient of an obsessive worry problem that I’ll likely be managing for the rest of my life. At that young age, I didn’t understand why my feelings were so out-of-control, so I prayed about it constantly. When God didn’t heal my fears and obsessions and phobias, I began to suspect that He had rejected me. What other assumption could I make? Why wasn’t He fixing the problem?
During this time, my parents taught me something that I count among the top five pieces of life advice I have ever received. They pointed out to me that I was asking God to heal me immediately from my fears, the way one might ask God to heal a broken leg overnight or make a new job drop in your lap. Sure, they said, miracles are possible, but do we really walk around expecting God to zap our every prayer into being immediately? Doesn’t God usually work over time, in various ways, without revealing the end of the path? Why should that be different just because the problem is in our head, and not something outwardly physical? Did I expect Him to reach down and magically rearrange my brain wiring when maybe His plan involved leading me through a process of healing?
I’m not saying that’s any kind of easy answer. When your brain feels like it’s doing time in Hell’s version of Alcatraz, of course any rational person would wish for immediate healing. There is legitimate grief, anger, and confusion when emotional healing doesn’t come fast. But the point is, we mustn’t get unrealistic expectations about how God works. A person with a broken leg expects to go to physical therapy and stay off the leg for awhile and receive strength and patience from God during the healing period. A person who needs a job sends out job applications and pray that God guides them to the right place.
By the same token, it’s normal to need professional help and medication, and to take time to heal, and to feel like utter crap while doing so. It doesn’t mean you’re doing faith wrong. It doesn’t mean God rejected you. It doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time with medication while you should be sitting on your couch waiting for Joy-with-a-capital-J to show up.
For the record, my own treatment for anxiety involves a professional therapist, supportive friends and family, exercise, keeping a job outside the home, and the Holy Spirit. Should medication ever need to enter the picture, I won’t hesitate.
We also need to address this pernicious (and baffling) idea making the rounds that depression and joy cannot co-exist in the same mind, and that joy is therefore a cure for depression. I’m not sure why anyone would ever think this, but here is a good resource by a Christian woman for dispelling that myth. If you’re still unsure, ask around with people who have been depressed. I’m sure they can give you many more personal examples of joy and utter depresson coexisting. Life is nuanced. Life is gray. Get used to that.
No discussion of this subject could be complete without addressing this next point: is depression-induced suicide a refusal to see the goodness in life?
Besides being needlessly antagonistic and utterly insensitive to grieving family members left behind, this statement is just plain wrong. Taking one’s own life is not based on the refusal to see life as good. It’s based on the belief that you cannot attain life’s goodness.
When you know you should be able to enjoy things, but literally can’t–when you know loved ones care for you, but they can’t sit in your pain with you–when you see other people functioning, but can’t get yourself to function–you are painfully aware of how good life is…for everyone else. You just can’t get there yourself.
This, by the way, is why depression is so isolating. You look outside of yourself and see a happy world full of happy people. But you can’t be there with them, and they can’t come inside the depression with you. It’s not a lack of desire to see joy and have hope; it’s an inability to break down a wall that your brain created without your permission.
To say that someone who is depressed or suicidal is refusing to see life’s goodness is like saying that a slave who can’t escape a captor is refusing to know what freedom is. You may know it, you may want it, but you don’t believe you can get to it.
I mean, let’s stop and think about this for one second. One second. Who on earth would ever choose to be miserable enough to kill themselves? Who on earth would ever say, “I’m in so much pain I want to die. There’s an answer in the form of hope and happiness and joy and good things, and all of those sound lovely, but….nah. I’m too lazy. I think I’ll just painfully cut my wrists open, or strangle to death on the end of a rope, rather than regain happiness.” Who says that??
This refusal-to-see-the-good-life idea is such utter, complete, ignorant, cruel, ridiculous tripe that there aren’t enough words in the English language to criticize it, or to describe the careless stupidity one must possess to spout it in judgment two days after a beloved actor has left a grieving family behind. And that’s saying something, because do you know how vast and descriptive the English language is?
Now to the final bit. It has come to my attention that some people are playing the Personal Experience card to de-legitimize other people’s experiences. Here’s how it works. Person X says, “Depression feels insurmountable; people who kill themselves must have been in so much pain.” Person Y says, “Oh yeah? Well I’ve struggled with these issues, too, so I can say from experience that you can get out of depression with this spiritual formula.”
Well, if we’re going to play the Personal Experience card, guess what? I have one of those cards too.
Having dealt with anxiety since I was a teenager, I’ve had my fair share of bouts with depression. Here’s the interesting part: my depression is usually a byproduct of anxiety (in fact, I hesitate to even call it depression because of that, but let’s do for the sake of argument). Because it’s a product of my anxiety, my attempts to fix my anxiety by changing thoughts and changing focus usually go a long way to alleviate the depression. So in a way, I could fit the profile that many of these bloggers want everyone to believe–the profile of the depressed person who finds a way to pull herself back into joy.
Yet even I, someone who found ways to pull myself out of depressed feelings, completely affirm the reality that many cases of clinical depression are too debilitating for people to fix on their own, and cannot be solved with enough joyful thoughts, especially if they’re due to chemical imbalance. Even I, who should fit these bloggers’ categories, believe their theories about depression are complete poo.
I could use my personal experience to belittle and blame people who have a different depressive experience than I do, but I don’t. You know why? Well, first, because I’m not a jerk. But second, it’s because I recognize that my experience is very particular to me, and that I have not experienced the kind of severe, brain-chemistry based clinical depression that some people struggle with. And I would not want those other people to tell me how my anxiety-driven depression should work, or to make predictions about how to fix it. What’s useful is to learn from each other’s experiences, recognize the differences, and support each other. So let’s drop this charade that heaving dealt with “these issues” somehow gives us insight into the experience of every depressed person. Shall we?
If I sound angrier than usual, it’s because I have finally lost patience for people hurting each other. I will grieve for Robin Williams and the millions like him in the world who suffer from a silent hell, and I will not be polite when people say ignorant things about them.
After two sets of rearranged plans and many adventures getting to the theater, I finally completed my summer goal and saw the movie version of A Fault In Our Stars,which was easily my favorite read of the past year.
I was so frustrated with him. “I just want to be enough for you, but I never can be. This can never be enough for you. But this is all you get. You get me, and your family, and this world. This is your life. I’m sorry if it sucks. But you’re not going to be the first man on Mars, and you’re not going to be an NBA star, and you’re not going to hunt Nazis. I mean, look at yourself, Gus.”
He didn’t respond. “I don’t mean—” I started.“Oh, you meant it,” he interrupted. I started to apologize and he said, “No, I’m sorry. You’re right. Let’s just play.”So we just played.
Appraising myself in the mirror as I brushed my teeth, I kept thinking there were two kinds of adults: There were Peter Van Houtens—miserable creatures who scoured the earth in search of something to hurt. And then there were people like my parents, who walked around zombically, doing whatever they had to do to keep walking around.Neither of these futures struck me as particularly desirable. It seemed to me that I had already seen everything pure and good in the world, and I was beginning to suspect that even if death didn’t get in the way, the kind of love that Augustus and I share could never last. So dawn goes down to day, the poet wrote. Nothing gold can stay.
“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1, and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinites are bigger than other infinities….There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”
I’m a reader who did not weep, contra every article ever written about the book, when I read The Fault in Our Stars. I thought, Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds. If I’m being honest, it also left me saying “Oh, brother” out loud more than once. Does this make me heartless? Or does it make me a grown-up? This is, after all, a book that features a devastatingly handsome teen boy who says things like “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things” to his girlfriend, whom he then tenderly deflowers on a European vacation he arranged.
But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia. As the writer Jen Doll, who used to have a column called “YA for Grownups,” put it in an essay last year, “At its heart, YA aims to be pleasurable.”
But crucially, YA books present the teenage perspective in a fundamentally uncritical way.
Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.