Wednesday, March 7, 2018

blame the machines

When I was twelve I discovered the concept of fashion blogging. I made one of my own and formed a friendship with a fellow fashion blogger named Samantha. She lives in San Francisco, but we communicate using technology. We have conversations via email, Skype, phone calls, and texting. Our preferred method of communication is texting because it can be done at any time of the day, and we can instantly share things with each other. Samantha is my closest and oldest friend. We’ve been friends for nine years. We are just as close as friends that can see each other frequently in real life, but since the distance makes that impossible we converse using our phones. I’m twenty and all of my friendships are maintained using my phone. Two of my friends are attending college in different states, one of my friends is attending college hours away from where I live, one of my friends lives in New York City, and as I mentioned before Samantha lives in San Francisco. While I can occasionally see some of these friends in real life, we mostly have to use our phones to keep in contact. However, there are other ways that we keep in contact as well. Samantha frequently sends me care packages in the mail and I recently received a package from a friend attending art school in Chicago. Texting is our primary form of communication, but I don’t believe that it makes our conversations more impersonal. I would argue that it’s proof that our friendships are strong because we make the effort to keep in contact using technology.

My blog allows me to share my opinions about various aspects of the fashion industry as well as showcase my own personal style. I sometimes write about television shows and films that I find interesting both aesthetically and mentally. I write about real people that inspire my sense of style as well as fictional characters that inspire me. However, my blog is not limited to the subject of fashion alone. I also write about a variety of social justice issues as well as sharing personal experiences that are completely unrelated to fashion. I have found that fashion blogging is the healthiest form of using the internet because it is like having a personal diary as opposed to a scrapbook filled with photographs that you feel pressured to share with the public. You can share your thoughts and your art without having to worry about the response of your peers because you are in control of everything. I was discussing social media with my friend Samantha and she said: “When I was becoming a young adult the internet was for personal branding and I still don’t like that feeling. To me social media is presenting a version of yourself at a party, but having a blog is like decorating your own house.”

Blogging has also given me an escape from my small town. I live on Cape Cod, a small peninsula in Massachusetts. I’ve always felt like an outsider because my peers didn’t share or understand my interests. Cape Cod also didn’t give me any outlets for my creative endeavors. Blogging has given me the opportunity to form relationships with people that share my interests and support my work. It has also given me the opportunity to travel. I’ve taken several trips to New York City that have allowed me to experience various aspects of the fashion industry. Without blogging, I wouldn’t have been able to express myself the way that I want to.

In the article “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” by Jean M. Twenge, Twenge explores the possible negative effects of smartphones on modern adolescents. In the first half of the article Twenge examines the rise in smartphone usage among teens and how that has changed the way they interact with each other while the second half of the article focuses on how smartphones and subsequently social media have played a role in the decline of the mental health of adolescents. While I agree with Twenge on some points, I ultimately disagree with the majority of the article based on my own personal experience and from observing the people around me.

In the first half of the article Twenge notes the rise in smartphone usage among teens and compares the way they live their lives today to the way teens have lived their lives in the past. Twenge asserts that: “The changes weren’t just in degree, but in kind. The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time.” Twenge emphasizes the difference between Millennials and their predecessors. Modern technology, specifically smartphones, have drastically changed how people currently live their lives. The members of iGen have grown up with smartphones whereas Millennials did not grow up with smartphones or even most of the technology readily available today. Twenge mentions how smartphones influence the social lives and mental health of teenagers today. Teenagers spend more time on their phone than with other people, and spend a lot of time at home in their bedrooms. She goes on to argue that this isolation can lead to mental health problems and difficulties navigating social situations.

The focus of the second half of “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation” is on how smartphones and social media have played a role in the decline of the mental health of adolescents. Twenge mentions two statistics gathered from the Monitoring the Future survey: eighth-graders that spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say that they’re unhappy in contrast to those that spend less time on social media (Twenge). Those who spend more time with their friends in person are 20 percent less likely to say they’re unhappy than those that don’t often hang out with their friends in person (Twenge). Twenge proposes that these statistics imply that: “If you were going to give advice for a happy adolescence based on this survey, it would be straightforward: Put down the phone, turn off the laptop, and do something—anything—that does not involve a screen.” She is stressing the fact that activities unrelated to technology are conducive to more happiness, whereas activities involving technology lead to more unhappiness. However, she also mentions that: “these analyses don’t unequivocally prove that screen time causes unhappiness; it’s possible that unhappy teens spend more time online. But recent research suggests that screen time, in particular social-media use, does indeed cause unhappiness.” Twenge is supporting her overall argument that the usage of modern technology is a large contributing factor to a decline in mental health.

I disagree with Twenge that the usage of modern technology is a large contributing factor to a decline in mental health. I do not think the usage of technology has caused or worsened by struggles with mental illness. People have been suffering from mental illness since the dawn of time, and how technology affects a person is an individual experience. Technology has mostly had a positive effect on my life. I do think that isolation causes unhappiness, although this is not something solely caused by smartphones. My depression and anxiety are isolating, and my smartphone has nothing to do with that. I agree that spending more time with people in person is healthier than spending the majority of your time in your room staring at a screen. I have had to deal with friends paying more attention to their phones than to me which was frustrating, but that ended up being a hint at their overall character rather than something I experience with the friends I have now.

I would argue that the most fulfilling experiences that I’ve had in my life have been due to the existence of the internet and ultimately made possible by the creation of smartphones. Without the presence of the internet I wouldn’t have been able to discover what fashion blogging was without it, and I couldn’t have the experience that I have writing about fashion. I wouldn’t have been able to attend the Independent Fashion Bloggers conference in New York City and meet the woman responsible for sending my information to Seventeen magazine which led to my shoot with them. I wouldn’t have been able to help my godfather out backstage at a runway show at the age of seventeen because he communicates almost exclusively via texting because he’s extremely busy. I wouldn’t have been able to model on the runway at his show for the same reasons. Social media allows me to share these experiences with my friends who were not there to witness them. It also encourages me to be creative. The only social media account that I have is an Instagram account where I post photography, my favorite paintings, screencaps from films that I like, and images that I can caption stating my views on topical issues.

Overall, I do not think the existence of smartphones and forms of social media have negatively affected my life. They certainly haven’t caused or worsened my struggles with mental illness. If anything, they have made me a more creative person and allowed me to meet people that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten the chance to meet. They have allowed me to have experiences that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten the chance to have. The existence of smartphones and subsequently social media has mostly improved my life.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

i fall to pieces

Last year was a pretty terrible year for me. My predominantly white town felt even more claustrophobic due to Trump's presidency. There were constant reminders that I was living in a town (in a country) that hated minorities, and therefore me. The bumper stickers, signs, and confederate flags were physical proof that I lived in a cesspool of white supremacy. Of course, I have always known this. I am one of the few brown people on this peninsula, and I have always been treated like an unusual creature by the people around me. At best, I am referred to as "exotic," which makes me feel commodified as opposed to conjuring images of tropical flowers in my mind. At worst, I am asked if my father came here illegally (he did) and referred to as a "beaner" by complete strangers. This town has never felt like a home. The beaches that attract tourists every summer have never felt safe. School slowly tore away at my spirit until I had to drop out. My heart beats a little faster when I'm in the car with my father because I dread the flashing lights, cruel eyes, and hefty fines that he is forced to pay simply for existing. My mental illness forced me into isolation, which both harmed and benefited me. Of course, none of this was exclusive to last year. The political climate seemed to exacerbate everything until it felt stifling, and as the year drew to a close I realized that I needed to push myself further than I ever have. 

Last year also wore away at me physically. My anxiety began to wear away at my body until I could see my ribs poking through my skin. My body rejected any form of nourishment. When I didn't feel overwhelmingly nauseous I suffered from a complete lack of appetite. I currently need to be reminded to eat, which is something that hasn't been necessary since sixth grade when I suffered a similar weight loss. I have come to the conclusion that my depression wants me to disappear. It wants me whittled down to the bone so that I can't leave my bed. My anxiety keeps me in the house, unhealthy and alone. I'm trapped with memories that I could escape if I could leave the house even just for one hour, but the thought of leaving the house makes bile rise in my throat. If I do leave the house I have to know days in advance so that my brain can put up the defenses necessary against the outside world. However, this agoraphobia has gifted me one thing: introspection and self-knowledge. Isolation forces you to look within and unravel yourself until you discover the ugliness you need to eradicate or embrace. Therapy has also helped. There are few trusted adults in my life, so my therapists serve as the support system that I lack. 

Despite the sadness that last year brought there were also the occasional beams of light. Going back to school proved difficult at first but I ended the semester with perfect grades. I grew more confident about academia and my abilities as a student. This seemed to make something shift in my brain, and the creative part of my brain that has been asleep for years began to wake up. The Women's March and the show of solidarity that came with it gave me a hope for the future that I haven't felt in years. Lana Del Rey's album Lust for Life came out at the exact same time that I committed to making significant changes in my life. It was a delightful coincidence that my favorite artist released an album that fit my frame of mind so perfectly, and provided a soundtrack to the start of my evolution. This year I want to continue to evolve, create, learn, and heal. I want to put myself back together. I want to be revolutionary. I want to be the healthiest version of myself. I hope that this year holds more positivity and growth than last year did.