TL;DR: Internet Use and “ADD”

Google-internet-006

Where’s my soapbox? Oh, there it is. Ok:

We all have some kind of ADD now. We all need to stop being mean to each other about it. And we all need to find ways to turn it around because it’s a total bummer and I don’t want my generation to turn into a bunch of over-medicated zombie people.

The DSM V gives the behavioral disorder known as Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder the following criteria:

  1. Often does not give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities (e.g., overlooks or misses details, work is inaccurate)
  2. Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities (e.g., has difficulty remaining focused during lectures, conversations, or reading lengthy writings).
  3. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly (e.g., mind seems elsewhere, even in the absence of any obvious distraction)
  4. Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., starts tasks but quickly loses focus and is easily sidetracked; fails to finish schoolwork, household chores, or tasks in the workplace)
  5. Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities (e.g., difficulty managing sequential tasks; difficulty keeping materials and belongings in order; messy, disorganized, work; poor time management; tends to fail to meet deadlines)
  6. Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (e.g., schoolwork or homework; for older adolescents and adults, preparing reports, completing forms, or reviewing lengthy papers).
  7. Often loses things needed for tasks and activities (e.g., school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, or mobile telephones)
  8. Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli (for older adolescents and adults, may include unrelated thoughts).
  9. Is often forgetful in daily activities (e.g., chores, running errands; for older adolescents and adults, returning calls, paying bills, keeping appointments)

Of the nine criteria listed above, a patient need display 6 or more for 6 months to be diagnosed with ADD. The New York Times reports a few different statistics on the recent rise of ADD including: 11% of school age children are diagnosed, 1 in 5 high school age boys are diagnosed, etc.

There are a plethora of opinions about why this problem, perceived or real, is on the incline. Some think a reduced stigma in psychotherapy encourages more people to seek help, leading to an influx of diagnoses. Readers of Allen Francis’ Saving Normal might say that drug-pushing Pharmaceutical companies are to blame. It is also not uncommon for those on medication to be accused of faking. And there are a few hippie weirdos out there who point to Food Inc. All of these theories have their own level of credibility (some more than others), but I’m going to ditch them all and make a totally non-credible undergraduate-level hypothesis based on surface-level investigation, Google, personal experience, and one book I read one time. I took Psych 101 in Community College, so I’m going to make a sweeping diagnosis on everyone who will ever read this page. Stay tuned.

Personal Experience

I always thought the people I knew who were diagnosed with Adult ADD were gaming the system; thought they were trying to get one over on their doctors so they could have a leg-up during finals week or write a term paper in one weekend. Once my friends entered the work force, some continued taking ADD meds to set the world on fire, and my opinion shifted. I thought, Why should it be easier for them when it’s so hard for the rest of us? Because, in my own experience, it is hard for the rest of us. I could continue to blame people for exploiting a disorder to function more productively, or I could embrace that maybe we all have it, to varying degrees.

Science!

I’m not good with all the science-y stuff, but luckily I don’t have to be. Nicholas Carr wrote a little book called The Shallows that lays it all out and, besides being a little gratuitously repetitious, it’s a good read. Over-simplification time: The book makes the case that increased exposure to the Internet is fundamentally changing the way our brains work. He explains in detail the theories of plasticity of our neurons and brain patterns, and their susceptibility to change throughout our lives due to the habits we form. In the now out-dated print culture, experience with books and other print media created a population of people capable of more prolonged attention (generally speaking). Reading was good exercise for the brain, like little brainy push-ups, keeping it focused in a linear way on a specific task, and making prolonged attention to other tasks (work, homework, life stuff) easier.

Television came in and stirred the pot a little, but the Internet is what screwed it all up for everybody. In the same way reading trained the brain to pay attention, interacting with the Internet trains the brain to follow tangents. Hyperlinks, multiple tabs, and second screen interaction all contribute to this phenomenon in the same way. If I haven’t lost you yet, maybe you’re beginning to see the problem. Because our minds are reshaping to acclimate to the tools we use (computers, smart phones, etc.), we are suffering from attention problems and memory loss. You can’t hyperlink your way through real life if you want to have successful relationships and careers.

In his article for the Huffington Post, Dr. Mark Goulston says, “When your thinking is interrupted by your brain, you’ve got real ADD. When it’s interrupted by the world, you just have trouble saying ‘no.’” I say nay, Dr. Goulston. More specifically, I say since we’ve trained our brains out of the ability of saying “no,” your distinction is imperceptible. Using words like “pseudo-ADD” does not change the experience of people who live in a world that demands their attention while their mind simultaneously demands distraction.

Patronizing Each Other is Getting Us Nowhere

In researching this post I came across a multitude of articles, not unlike Mark Goulston’s, that take a decidedly condescending tone when talking about “ADD fakers” (although they fail to accurately define the difference between them and their non-faking-counterparts). I was interested, though unsurprised, to see the authors of such articles attributed attention problems to shortcomings on the behalf of the spacey person. Lori Day writes, rather facetiously, “I know, I know, it’s all to be blamed on our fast-paced, screen media-saturated, multi-tasking lifestyles. We can’t help it. There’s just too much going on.” Well, excuse me Miss Day. I didn’t mean to bore you.

My guess is, this harsh attitude is the result of two completely separate viewpoints. Theory Number One: People are frustrated with their own attention deficits, but do not use a label like “ADD” to excuse their behavior and look down on those who they think do so. Theory Number Two: Neuroplasticity may account for the ongoing change of our brains, but lots of habits (good and bad) are formed in childhood. These attention problems may be generational, with younger people facing more obstacles to their productivity because they did not develop more focused habits as kids (they were too busy with other stuff) while their older counterparts may be more disciplined and not-so-understanding.

Get over it.

Stop implying that people are faking having ADD or saying things like pseudo-ADD and listen (look?) up. We need to drop this whole label, non-label nonsense and get to the crux of the issue. Unless we all throw down our digital devices in a show of solidarity (hahahaha), this is the new normal. We need to find ways to combat the attention problems that affect our careers and personal lives, instead of being condescending to each other or worse, taking meds for it. This is my one and only disclaimer for this post: I can’t say that meds don’t help anybody, because maybe they do. But then again, I don’t think I know anybody with a form of ADD that wouldn’t benefit from some alternative treatment.

Concentration and extended focus are important for obvious reasons.  The ability to pay attention leads to productivity at school and in the workplace (read: more $$$).  But there are more important things at stake here.  As a society we are moving rapidly toward a highly digitized world, and shorter attention spans are only the tip of the iceberg.  Institutions founded on the values of print culture are suffering, becoming more obsolete and functioning poorly.  It takes a certain kind of mind to contemplate complex problems like a broken political structure, a failing education system, and unsustainable energy consumption across the globe.  We all need to strive for this certain kind of mind, before we lose ourselves to the distractions completely.

I have a point I promise. I read an awesome article on Lifehacker about rebuilding your attention span. After a few clicks I found a bunch more articles that deal with the same issue. We need to combat the impact the internet is having on our brains – making us inattentive, forgetful, anxious, unmotivated, and unproductive – in order to lead happier, healthier lives. We can do this. But forming healthier habits isn’t going to happen over night, and although I think it’s possible it would definitely require a lot of effort, and…

Oh, look, a video.

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Everybody Hates Gatbsy

Wanna-be high-brow media critics across the world wide web are lining up to put their stamp of disapproval on Luhrmann’s Gatsby adaptation.  It has officially become the “cool” thing to do.  But they’re being too harsh.

leonardo-dicaprio-plays-the-strenuously-polished-trove-of-secrets-that-is-jay-gatsby-in-baz

no-rage-faceAllow me to start with this: it is almost impossible for a film like The Great Gatsby to live up to its literary counterpart.  Impossible.  Not that there has never been a successful film adaptation of any book ever, just that it couldn’t be this one. If you’re like me, you read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novella at a pivotal point in your life (somewhere between 15 and 25, maybe?) and, in doing so, you run the risk of succumbing to nostalgia.

No fantastical cinematic achievement can live up to the emotion we may have felt at glimpsing into the tragic lives of these kindred spirits at a time when the hormones in ourselves were raging out of control.  For me, at least, the idealism, the gluttony, the phoniness, and the heartache all found good company among the inner turmoil I was experiencing for myself as an oppressed, middle-class teenager.  (Sigh. Such hard times, they were.)

Here is what some people are saying:

  • “[Luhrmann’s movies] revel in surface, spectacle and sensory overload. They’re audaciously, passionately artificial and at the same time unabashedly romantic — post-modern pop medleys aimed at the heart, not the brain.” Tom Charity, CNN.com
  • The movie feels bloated, with a few too many scenes of speeding cars careening through the streets and pointless musical segues meant to reflect the carefree attitude of the time.Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald
  • His colors are as bright as those in a detergent commercial; his musical choices as intrusive as the exit cues on an awards show. The camera ducks and swerves like O.J. Simpson on his way to a car rental, and the cast all share a slightly vibratory, methamphetamine sheen.” – Christopher Orr, The Atlantic
There, there, darling. They don't mean it.

There, there, darling. They don’t mean it.

You get the idea.

It appears that the main problem these critics, and many, many others, have with the film is everything that makes it perfect for its medium.  The book is bound to be more introspective and intellectual by the sheer nature of its form.  A movie made in 2013 cannot be blamed for using those tools at its disposal to make it as visually stimulating as possible.  Gatsby definitely becomes a spectacle, with swinging camera shots, dazzling colors, sensational parties, and fantastic wardrobes on beautiful people all shot in 3D with an electrically-charged soundtrack to enhance it.  But instead of hating it for all that it is not, we should celebrate Gatsby it for all that it is.

This is not to say the The Great Gatsby is without flaws.  But I forgive the movie these errors because of its loyalty to the original story and its beautiful delivery.  You should too.  Because, if at times the glitz and glamour all seem a little self-indulgent and ultimately empty, well, now you know how Gatsby must have felt.

“The Americans” – Inspiring Russophobia in the 21st Century

Some Things:

  1. There are spoilers in here.
  2. I am not Russian, not that it should matter (although I’m probably on some CIA watch list at this point).  I took a Russian history class once back in my community college days, that’s about it. (Dr. Richard Trimble taught it, and it was awesome.)

When Mitt Romney remarked that Russia was our worst foe on CNN last year during his campaign, my friends and I had a good chuckle at his expense.  Born in the post-Cold War era, we are unfamiliar with the anti-Russian sentiment of the former governor and some of our parents.

That is why, when I saw the series premier of the Americans on FX, I was blown away.

(If you have yet to see the show, check it out.)

Ok, FX, we get it.  Homeland, the Showtime espionage thriller about a CIA agent and a US marine, is wildly successful.  You wanted to cash in on some of that.  And hey, it was only a couple years ago that some Russian sleepers were rounded up in Yonkers.  Besides, you made it a period piece, set in 1981: smack-dab in the middle of the Cold War.  So it’s all good, right?

Nope, not even close.  The unforgivable rampant Russophobia ruined this show for me.  It is most evident when comparing the two main characters.  Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are Russian spies who have been living undercover in the US for over a decade.  They have two children and an FBI agent for a neighbor (who saw that coming?).  Despite the fact that they are both Russian spies, their likability is very much in congruence with how “American” they seem, not in terms of heritage but characteristics.  I find that, in the pilot at least, the more relatable characters are more American and the less relatable are Russian.

The Jenningses

Philip

  • Philip is an American sympathizer, as evidenced by his desire to defect and turn Timochev over to his FBI neighbor (which he doesn’t do out of love for is wife – awww). Also seen when he first comes to America and notes that “everything is brighter.”
  • Possesses more impulsive but ultimately more endearing qualities than his partner/wife, including an openness with his affection, playfulness with his children, and fierce protection of his family.
  • In general, seems more emotional, open, and (ultimately) American.

Elizabeth

  • Elizabeth is very loyal to Russia, saying that she would “lose everything before [she] betrayed [her] country.”
  • Less endearing characteristics: in the first scene in which we meet her, she is prostituting herself for information.  In moments with her children, she is distracted and distant.  She also blatantly challenges her arranged marriage with Phillip.
  • In general, she’s a colder character, less emotionally accessible and less likable.

I do not find these differences coincidental.  The majority of the rest of the characters in the show demonstrate the same split between Good (American) and Bad (Russian).  Beeman, the American FBI agent, is still a slightly two-dimensional character at this point, but he seems like a nice-enough guy.  Timochev is Russian, and he’s a rapist/woman-beater whose death leaves the audience satisfied.

The question I have yet to answer is, why now?  Although the lines between “us” and “them” are not so neatly drawn as in, say, a Bond film, they are still there in the Americans.  What does this show say about our cultural understanding of Russians in America?

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I have been told that I am not giving the show enough credit, and that further episodes will reveal it as an allegory that shows the struggles and triumphs of both sides of the story.  I hope that such is the case.

In the meantime, I’ll stick to Homeland.

Veronica
Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.

Text Message Decoder and the Myth of Miscommunication

I am a product of my generation – Generation Y.  Among many other things, we are characterized by our relationship to technology (obviously) and have lived through several breakthroughs in interpersonal communication: the birth and growth of social media, e-mail as an essential mode of business correspondence, and text messaging.

Bringing us ever closer.

Bringing us ever closer.

Oh, texting. How we watched you grow from a little T-9 SMS application to such a pervasive pastime that QWERTY keyboards became a standard feature on most cellphones.  My friends, siblings, and I have a comprehensive understanding of text message communication because we’ve been doing it since middle school (Sorry Mrs. Cleary) which is why I am so sick of reading articles about texting causing miscommunication.  My generation knows how to communicate more effectively through text messages than we are given credit for, and I aim to prove it.

The following may seem like common sense to many people my age, which I hope will emphasize my point.

Spelling

My first example dissects “hey,” a standard greeting with more than one layer of meaning depending on the number of y’s at the end.  (I’m not even kidding.  It may seem like I’m digging too far into minutia of all this, but trust me.)

  • “hey” is a simple way to establish contact.
  • “heyy” demonstrates more enthusiasm, and perhaps an affection for the recipient.
  • “heyyy” is sometimes used in booty-calls (booty-texts?) and definitely communicates attraction.
  • “heyyyy” translates directly to “I’m intoxicated.”

I do not make the rules, I only abide by them. (This is general knowledge, as evidenced by the fact that I am not the first person to map this out.)

Emoticons

I do not know when it was decided that “:)” stood for a smile, or happiness, or amusement, but ever since than simple combinations of available characters have been used to demonstrate specific feelings or reactions.

meow

Meow.

I have read that text messaging lacks emotion, which is untrue in my experience.  The type of emoticon one uses to respond to a message or punctuate their own says a lot about the idea being exchanged.  For example:

“I’m leaving now:”
I’m leaving now : D
I’m leaving now : (
I’m leaving now >: (

All of these have a different meaning, and the possibilities are endless.  Emoticons go beyond mimicking the characteristics of a face, for example including ” ❤ ” which resembles a heart and stands for the emotion of love, variations of which include ” <333 ” and ” </3 ” depending on what the sender wishes to say.  Recently, texting with emoticons has been made even easier by applications like Emoji for iPhone that include numerous tiny graphics to enhance your messages.

Screen shot 2013-02-04 at 12.06.17 PM

On a somewhat related note, it has been said that texting emoticons is far more acceptable among women than men.  Writing from a women’s perspective, I cannot confirm or deny this except to say that I use emoticons often without thinking twice about it.  However, I have a male friend who ends every text with a wink face, communicating to me that everything he says has a hidden layer of creepy.

Abreves

I will admit that I have received some random combinations of letters that force me to search Google for a translation but most are widely understood, especially among close groups of friends. (I touch on something like this in my Wordplay post.)  Like emoticons, they enhance the message and communicate a more specific meaning.  (Consider “lol,” “omg,” and “jk;” “fam,” “fab,” and “fave;” “totes,” “obvs,” and “probs;” etc, etc, etc.)  Apart from the words and phrases the abbreviations themselves stand for, they can be used in certain context to demonstrate irony. For example, if I were to write something like, omg i’m like totes excited for the beibs lolz, the receiver would recognize that I am being sarcastic (maybs?).

Punctuation

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Everybody knows what “k.” means.  The unnecessary use of the period in this case has a message of it’s own: “Don’t even bother saying anything else because I’m mad and this [insert expletive] conversation is over for me.”  Punctuation is loaded with connotation because it can be otherwise unnecessary, especially in the case of one-word or otherwise brief messages.  Punctuation can also stand alone. “?” can mean, “I’m confused. Elaborate.” “!” communicates excitement or surprise, etc.

Do Not Underestimate the Texters

If miscommunication occurs during a text correspondence, it is no fault of our own.  Damn You, Autocorrect! (in addition to being hilarious) is a perfect example of how text replacement software functions fail us on a regular basis, but my original point stands.

Through subtle nuances in spelling and format, people communicate a vast range of ideas and emotion in their text messages.  No one person sat down and drew up a set of rules for texting efficiently, and yet these rules are generally understood by people who grew up using this medium of communication.  Just because you do not necessarily understand a text exchange between two people (I’m talking to you, outdated communication experts) does not mean that they don’t.

whatevs lol. byee
<3/v
Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.