The spark for this rant came from this piece on Oprah.com called “The New Midlife Crisis.” Though this one focused specifically on Gen X women, I’ve seen the details before in articles about millennials of both genders, about working people, about teenagers (Gen Z or whatever the heck we’re calling them), on and on: people are stressed. Diagnoses of depression and anxiety are at all-time highs. Humanity is in crisis, be it mid-life or quarter-life or whatever. Everyone is unhappy and no one knows why.
I don’t deny that people are more stressed, depressed, and anxious. I’ve witnessed it firsthand. I’ve experienced it personally. Every article has a different theory: it’s because of the economy, it’s because of white supremacy, it’s because of capitalism, it’s the damn Republicans’ fault. But I think I know the answer and, in fact, I can almost guarantee that my theory is right.
IT’S THE INTERNET.
There are a lot of hand-wringing articles about younger millennials and the next generation growing up on the internet and spending most of their time on it. But no one seems to acknowledge the fact that older people use the internet too, you know. I am a millennial but I’m a bit of an older one (1985), so my family didn’t have a PC until I was in around fifth or sixth grade; we had no internet until freshman year of high school, and there was no such thing as smartphones until I was already out of college.
I did spend quite a bit of my formative years on the internet, but it was in the “Web 1.0” era. Slow internet speeds, basic web pages and no social media. I made a lot of friends online, but the settings were very similar to those at Glib: we all interacted under screen names. Very few people knew my real name or what I looked like. I spent time on fandom message boards, LiveJournal, fanlistings and the very occasional IRC chat room. We’d leave comment threads pertaining to a specific topic, such as whether those who watched dubbed anime should be burned at the stake or not. (Full disclosure: I am a dubbie, not a subbie. Feel free to shun the nonbeliever.) The friends I made in those places didn’t know every single detail of my life—we’d just talk about Sailor Moon or video games or whatever. It was an escape from reality, a nice way to de-stress when I got home from school. Building fanlistings was a fun way to teach myself web design and Photoshop as a creative outlet. It was a more innocent age.
Since the rise of MySpace and then Facebook, the internet has evolved, and you can easily see that the ways it has encroached more and more steadily into our lives is a recipe for stress overload. Moving away from the previous online culture of anonymity and limited sharing, social media has encouraged us to SHARE MOAR! SHARE MOAR! SHARE EVERY SINGLE DETAIL OF YOUR LIFE!
People live on social media, blurting out every little thing that comes to mind. Status updates for every second of every day. Everyone knows the second you start dating someone, the second you break up, when you get a job and when you lose one, what time you get up in the morning and what time you go to bed. Photos of every meal, every drink from a bar or a coffee shop, every outfit, every haircut. Family drama gets aired like dirty laundry. And don’t even talk to me about people with kids. Every milestone in life gets a professional photographer involved. Proposal photos, engagement photos, wedding photos, anniversary photos, pregnancy announcement photos, shower photos, gender reveal photos, photos with a chalkboard saying whatever week you’re at in your pregnancy, BIRTH photos—women are literally having someone glam them up while they’re in the damn hospital and posing with the baby on their naked chests. I could make a collage of these. They all look the same. And then once the kid’s popped, it’s annual family photos, holiday photos, first-day-of-school photos, the photo cycle never ends.
People get on Facebook Live or Instagram Stories or myriad other video sharing platforms even while they’re driving their damn cars and fill the empty space with the sound of their voices. It’s performance art. People are building an audience, whether they are looking for strangers to become their followers or just subjecting their family and friends to it.
Every second of everyone’s life is on display. And it seems like the general public is only acknowledging that this as a problem for the teens and young millennials. But I’ll tell you what, these Gen X women? I have gotten to know a number of women around ten to fifteen years older than me since I started publishing, which means that I’m seeing a bunch of moms whose kids are graduating high school and going to college, and HO-LY SHIT. These women have the millennial moms with the toddlers beat. They won’t shut up about their kids, and they’re tagging the kids in the status updates. One woman the other day posted a public Facebook post calling out a girl her college freshman daughter was friends with, shaming her for being ‘a backstabber’. AND SHE TAGGED THE DAUGHTER IN IT, so now all the daughter’s friends will see it.
This is just one example of the pervasive oversharing that’s going on thanks to social media. But it’s not just the cringe factor that’s the problem. From all these pro photo shoots for every moment of someone’s life to the professional networking aspect of social media, social media is encouraging unhealthy levels of competition. I’d be the first to admit that some competition is a good thing, as it encourages people to excel; but there needs to be some moderation. Before the internet, competitiveness was limited to face-to-face interaction or specific tasks. With the internet, it’s 24/7. People are lying in bed trying to sleep at night looking at their phones and seeing Sally Supermom coifed and made up like a model in a hospital bed with baby number three posed tenderly on her bare chest. #blessed #wokeuplikethis
When everyone around you seems like they’ve got their shit together and you feel like you don’t, it can be very difficult to ignore feelings of helplessness or desperation that ensue.
For me personally, it’s very, very hard for me to be around other authors. Especially with the rise of indie publishing, there are a lot of Type A personality authors who are obsessed with maximizing productivity, and they can be overwhelming. “I wrote 50,000 words this week but I think I can get it up to 75,000 if I use dictation software so I can ‘write’ while I do chores and use my exercycle.” “I’ve been feeling a bit drained recently, so I’ve been doing thirty minute bursts of mindful meditation after every 5000 words, and I’ve found it lets me get my productivity up even higher—I’m averaging 30,000 words a day!” “You’re never going to make it in this industry if you don’t put a book out at least once every three months, so you need to focus on ways to write faster while also maintaining a well-balanced social life, running five miles every day so you’re not a fatty, raising 2.5 children and experiencing spiritual enlightenment through the teachings of Zen Buddhist monks!”
And you’ll notice I’ve not even mentioned politics at this point. Because I think we all know what the state of politics is like thanks to the internet. It would take a whole separate article to talk about that trash fire.
My point is: I’m not surprised at all that stress, depression and anxiety are at all-time highs. And there’s a solution, as difficult as it is to accept—if you want to feel better, you’ve got to get off the internet. I know it’s hard. And sometimes you don’t have a choice, especially if you have a job that requires social media marketing. But we as individuals all need to make a conscious choice to cut back. If you can’t deactivate Facebook entirely, use it sparingly, and don’t be afraid to unfollow every person who says something stupid. Same thing goes for Twitter, Instagram, and every other form of social media. I’ve noticed a marked improvement in my mood since blanket-muting just about every author on Twitter and only having exposure to William Shatner, Emergency Kittens and my local branch of the National Weather Service. The other day, I took the day off and did nothing but play video games and comment on Glib, and I felt so relaxed and unstressed afterwards (probably because it was a day that Derpetologist didn’t post).
Want to solve the “crisis” crisis? Be you man or woman, a Gen X-er, a millennial, or someone older or younger, try cutting out or cutting back on social media. I can guarantee you that you will feel much better in a very short amount of time.