The Mask Of The Internet

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We are what we eat, indeed. Which means that today, I’m a massive plate of avocado toast, inordinate cheese servings and – as of five minutes ago – a whole lot of mindless Internet morsels. I’m certainly not anti-Internet, but I have been making strides to better monitor my information intake. In a sense, I’m on a bit of an Interdiet. (It’s going well, thank you – my pants are looser and I can breathe deeper.) And I’m not alone.

Masha Reva explores the way in which we interact with social media – the formation of self and the way in which we adhere to our surroundings. “Today a human is surrounded by huge amount of information, while social networks and blogs bring us an opportunity to create a superficial representation of ourselves in the web,” she writes. “Becoming a part of virtual reality, a computer data, we merge within the boundless informational field that is the internet.”

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Her words remind me of this eye-opening TED talk I’ve mentioned before, and also of a recent speech written by Caterina Fake: “We make our human mistakes. Connected to so many, we are intimate with fewer and fewer. We squander our days in amusements. Instead of truth, triviality. We are exhorted to sate the urges of the millions, their sloth, greed, pride or lust. We are told that this is what will make us a success. This is a deadly cynicism, which we must fight. Because the internet is a medium, it doesn’t care whether it transmits love or hate. It is what we build and who we are that make it what it is. We can build things that diminish our humanity or build things that bring us to human flourishing.”

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And I think to do this – to build things that bring us to human flourishing – we have to emerge just a bit. We have to release ourselves from our background and our surroundings and our Google searches. We have to aim for truth over triviality. Vulnerability over disguise. Creation over consumption.

Masha touches on this in a recent interview. “We are hunting for information all the time, and consequently we do not stop to produce information by ourselves,” she writes. “It actually looks like we are being blended together with the huge amount of information, and for us it is never enough.”

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Of course, untying ourselves from the tangled web of information (and yes, inspiration) we’re immersed in takes courage. And yet, I find it interesting that Masha’s prints are almost entirely nature-filled, as if the solution to our entrapment might live in our backyard, beneath the soil of productivity and bookmarking and email – buried just over the very roots which ground us.

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This weekend, I’m unearthing those roots. I’m removing myself from the backdrop of design blogs and editorial calendars and refresh buttons. Because as novelist André Berthiaume once wrote, “We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.”

Image Credits: Masha Reva

p.s. More background blending here.

  • Reading these posts from you is such a breath of fresh air, Erin. It’s very hard to pry myself away from the computer but every time I do I feel a million times better for it. We’re all facing an uphill battle as more and more of our worlds seem to demand for us to be online, but being conscious about the time we spend online is the most important first step – and one I’m trying to integrate into my own life at this very moment in time.

  • I’ve been thinking a lot lately about intention and the online life – in other words, if it all fell away (my blog, etc), what relationships, skills, experiences would I have? If it’s only online ephemera, that isn’t enough. Or it’s too much of one thing and not enough of the other.

    I’ve challenged myself to spend enough time offline to create, to learn, and to build face to face relationships. The relative slowness of a conversation over coffee or dinner. Or building my photography portfolio. Or a walk with a friend.

    That is what satisfies. The “other” is good – it’s inspiring. But it so easily can creep from enough to too much to crowding out everything else.

    • I love this, Sandra – “If it all fell away, what relationships, skills, experiences would I have?” Great food for thought!

  • I really appreciate this, and where you’re taking Design For Mankind, Erin. You encourage me to keep going deep; to keep finding and making more meaning than what the rapid-fire web encourages. Thank you, thank you.

  • Erin, so true! I’m really interested in Reva’s process while creating these–if it required an internet diet to get to these images. I’ve been on a web diet, too, and it’s pretty awesome. It makes me curious about what the future of online connectedness is if we’re all getting tired of it. Are our kids just going to be begrudgingly connected with everyone, or is there going to be some sort of backlash? It seems like a Pandora’s box problem, but I could be wrong… Thanks for inspiring some introspection this afternoon!

    • I’ve been thinking of this lately, as well! But then again, I was the TV generation and I never tired of it. ;)

  • such a beautiful post, erin! I think about this stuff a lot….but in the same turn, I love the internet and blogs and the blogger friends I have made. That being said, it’s always nice to take a break and live real life than just life through the pretty facade everyone puts on their websites.

    • Oh I completely agree re: the friendships. The Internet certainly makes real, meaningful connections happen if we allow it! :)

  • I’m loving these deeper posts Erin. I’ve been pondering some of these thoughts for around a year now after I visited Rwanda in April 2012. When I got back things that previously seemed important, just weren’t anymore. I was less connected whilst I was away for the month. I had limited access to the internet, no newspapers, tv, magazines and yet I felt more inspired and more creative than ever. I’ve cut down my information consumption a lot since then and instead I’ve reacquainted myself with my own thoughts and ideas. I think the problem with consuming so much information-all of the time is you lose who you are and yes, start to blend with others and the information you’re absorbing. Lots to think about and thank you for this eloquent reminder.

    • Isa – I so appreciate your thoughts on this, and my gosh, what a life-changing experience. I’m planning to head out of the country this summer (Ethiopia!) and am expecting a similar process in myself. We shall see!

  • great post erin. you really write so wonderfully – i was just telling rena that yesterday. and i’m loving these thoughtful posts. they do make me worry for my future (ha!) but i think that’s probably a good thing. thanks for the TEDtalk link, too.

    • Oh, Vic – your comment means the world to me! Thanks for your sweet words, and oh man – I’m worried right there with you. ;) I need to turn off the thinking faucet for a second sometimes! Hope you’re well – the blog is looking as lovely as ever. :)

  • I particularly love that final quote. I think it is so true that our social media self, while not our full and honest self, does become a very real part of who we are. I know some days I look at my social media numbers and feel personally defeated as if the world is saying, “you’re not that important” but the truth is the real me is important. Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

  • Love. That is really all I can say. You provide such wonderful wisdom – your blog is really a blessing. Don’t stop being your authentic self. About to wacth that TED Talk and search more for Masha – people need to remember these things. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the madness. Thank you, as always, for sharing.

  • This stuff keeps me up at night, away from my computer, back at my computer, and away on long walks with my phone shoved deep in a drawer at home. I admire the thoughtfulness of some who create for the internet, and despise the others that peddle filth and hate. It’s a wonderful and an awful place.

  • Erin, I wrote about this social media today on Design Mom, but with less thoughtful introspection, I think. I love your thoughts, especially this: “We have to aim for truth over triviality. Vulnerability over disguise. Creation over consumption.” This is tough, especially in the online world we’ve consumed and created. But thank you, thank you for the call to action and authenticity! If I lived in your town, we’d internet-diet ourselves to a real life lunch date.

    • Ahhh, Amy – I want a real life lunch date NOW! :) I loved your post today, and I can’t wait to read through the comment section when I have a moment. (Your posts always offer such thoughtful comments!)

  • what an honest, telling predicament we are all in, those of us who both love and hate the immense capabilities of the internet. thanks for sharing your thoughts, and leaving us with the reminder to build with the intent to build a humanity that flourishes. you certainly added to that cause today!

  • Creation over consumption. YES!
    I read on another blog about what you do the first thing in the morning will color your day. And about choosing to do something active (creating) vs passive (reading emails, facebook). So I’m sketching every morning now. And feeling all the better.

    • I completely agree, Anne! I used to use Bee’s morning naps for responding to emails and catching up on work, but now I’m savoring that time to think, reflect or curl up with a great book. It’s made all the difference in my headspace!

  • Such an interesting point of view, thank you for writing from within. I have always loved the breaks and slowness that my life forces me at times to go through, emerging every single time with deeper knowledge of where to head. You have definitely given me much food for thought, and those words by Caterina Fake will go deep inside me: “We can build things that diminish our humanity or build things that bring us to human flourishing”. It is up to us to live our lives, and to leave a legacy of truth over triviality.

  • It does seem hard to take a long period of time from the internet since everything we do seems to be on there these days from school, bills and shopping. I try to stay away from it as much as possible and I always feel so much better.

  • Ok, this is all great and I am in the same boat and completely relate to this issue. But I see a giant elephant in the room that nobody is talking about. What happens when everyone steps away from the internet, stops consuming and starts creating more? Isn’t it what got us into the over-consuming trouble in the first place – all these amazing minds that churn out great books or blog articles, incredible artists and performers, beautiful & well thought out products and so on? If we all keep creating more but there is nobody who will look at or engage with what we’re creating, then what? While this may not be a huge issue for those creating in certain fields such as painting where the process of creation is the pleasure in itself and one could happily paint on the weekends their whole life and never show their work to anyone, there are plenty of creative endeavors that MUST have consumers waiting on the other side in order to be meaningful. Am I missing something? Is the assumption that there will always be PLENTY of non-creative people who will never create themselves (or will create very little) and will be more than happy consuming all the wonderful things so easily available now? Is the battle here solely for already creative types that get bogged down in consumerist behavior instead of focusing on creating MORE of their work… to add even more information to the information overload? I know you will say it’s about finding a balance, but make no mistake that even if you find this mythical balance, you will still be contributing to the information overload and encouraging consumerism in other people simply by creating interesting thoughts or wonderful things. It is just part of the game – give and take, push and pull, etc. Let’s not just “consume less and create more”, because it is at best a naive and at worst a hypocritical approach. Let’s create with the same editing fervor we get when we try to downsize and simplify what we have in excess. Wheew, that was super rambly… I hope it makes sense a little bit…

    • Hi D,

      It does make sense! I think this idea is less about product consumption and more about idea/information consumption. It’s not bad, but I think it can teeter that way quickly. And I think the balance you speak of is certainly a different, fluctuating level from person to person. I’m in a heavy season of creating, but it hasn’t always been the case! I enjoy sitting back and being the consumer as well. Give and take, absolutely.

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