I DIDN’T REALIZE I wanted to get into longform writing until I was a junior in college, when I was abroad – traveling on planes, trains, buses and found myself consuming pages and pages and pages of creative non-fiction to combat boredom. It never occurred to me that it was something feasible: to write true, extensive and vivid accounts about people, about issues, about things that, for a lack of a better phrase, “really mattered.” One of the first pieces I read was “The Things That Carried Him" by Chris Jones. I read it because everyone told me to. Beside Gay Talese’s "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” “The Things That Carried Him” was one of those “must reads” every magazine journalist needed to have under their belts.
So I did.
I picked up The Best American Magazine Writing, flipped to Chris’ story and remembered thinking, “Jeez, it’s so fucking long.” It ended up taking me two to three days to finish, not because the piece was “so fucking long,” but because I ended up putting the book down throughout because I needed to grab a tissue, to take a deep breath, to remind myself not to tear up, again. It was one of those pieces that resonated with you –– not minutes, not hours, but days. You thought about it late at night, in the shower, or just when you’re walking. Certain phrases waft back into your memory. And they linger. I thought about Joey, about how his mom must’ve felt when she heard her “miracle” son had died, about how Chris must’ve felt when he wrote the story.
This was years ago.
After reading this New York Times article about how Gen Y is constantly “on,” i.e texting, tweeting, foursquaring, Facebooking, I found myself in a personal dilemma with the author’s conclusion that Gen Y simply can’t be turned “off.”
Oh, before I move forward, I guess I should put out a disclaimer: I am and am not one of those people. (And I’ve come to terms with how much that is a point of contention).
Let me explain: I like face time. Like actual one-on-one, let me stare into your eyes as you speak and I nod face time. I like the idea that I can physically read a person when they’re speaking and gauge what my response should be. I don’t really like the phone, and as a journalist, that sometimes is a huge problem. I find phones often contrived and it’s easy for both parties to put on a persona. I often have to prep for hours before a phone interview just to make sure my lisp doesn’t slip out or my stutter doesn’t completely butcher the conversation. Phones are not my best friend, as with texting. I find texting a strange medium––the “success” of a text is very much contingent on the response of the other person. I am not great texter. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that if I don’t respond to a text right away, it will be forgotten. So I’ve resorted to sending out sometimes terse, unintentionally snippy one-worded answers, in order to make sure my response is timely.
But here’s how I go about my day: I wake up, and reach for my phone. I am awoken by the flurries of emails that have “dinged!” in throughout the night, and I sift through those. Delete, Delete, Archive, Reply Later, Delete, Delete, Make a mental note to email Dad, Write back to writers about edits, Delete, Delete. I rarely shut off my phone (only under special circumstances), but with the constant hounding from friends, I’ve managed to learn to put my phone on Silent nowadays when I pop into bed.
By the time I’ve done this, it’s about 7/730am. Then I move onto social media. Twitter is my number one go-to (I’ve basically given up on Facebook). I scroll through tweets that have gathered from the night before and I favorite things that I will read, will write about, and will repost/relink on my own Twitter. The hardest part is choosing what articles to repost and what to relink. The wonderful thing about the web is how much there is to consume, but with that, the responsibility in choosing what to redistribute back out to the cyberworld becomes a nagging pressure that I find myself struggling with on a daily basis.
And I think here’s the point of contention for me as someone who has clearly embraced social media as a new medium of conversation: where do and (should) I draw the line with how much I consume and put back out? The problem with social media and texting is that, in my opinion, it’s very much a safe haven for many people who sometimes live behind the screen. Being 'on' all the time on the web, means more off time, IRL. Human interactions are cut short by the staccatos of our phones vibrating, ringing and dinging, 24/7.
I know I fall victim to that, but I’m also a perpetrator in the same scheme. I don’t like the idea that news and social media puppet how I go about my day, but I know it does. I’ve canceled dates and meetings and lunches and skipped out on classes because I’ve felt the dire need to make sure breaking news was covered. I sometimes wake up in the morning with this sense of untamed urgency to consume. It’s a little bit unhealthy and neurotic, I know. But sometimes I tell myself it’s part of the job, part of the industry that I want to be in. Could that be fair argument?
I guess the only way is to find a healthy balance. To make a conscious effort not to be always reaching for my phone, imagining ghost vibrations and making sure the next time I’m at a fancy dinner, my phone is snugged in my purse, with the Silent button 'on.'