For rent: brain space
Hello, people of the internet.
I’m going to take a wild guess that unless somebody had the patience to screen shot the individual paragraphs of this entire blog post, print them into a cute little book, and mail it to you at the speed of light, you are on the internet right now. The internet is a strange, funny, and dark place. I think I feel the same way about the internet that most people do—it’s super convenient and useful, moderately informative and fun, and somewhat depressing and sad. I guess I should clarify that I have no problem with the actual internet (don’t try me, Comcast), but rather the stuff that’s a part of it. It’s something we use every day, and something I think about a lot.
Side note: if you want to learn cool things about the internet/technology, laugh a lot, and need some motivation to change all your passwords from your cat’s name with a capital letter plus the year you were born plus an exclamation mark, my absolute favorite podcast is Reply All. You’ll laugh til you’re crying and feel highly insecure about your lack of internet privacy all at the same time. You’ll want to binge listen, for sure.
Anyway, having access to the internet has given us access to information about pretty much anything at any time, and of course, exclusive and completely representative insight into the lives of all the people we follow on Instagram—especially the lives of people whose lives seem flawless and easy. We also have access to the infinite threads of Reddit, millions of answers on Quora, millions of blogs about everything from tech to cooking to fitness to hungover owls, and the dark hole of hypochondriasis that is WebMD. We all know this, we’ve heard it before, this is not groundbreaking: the internet is both the greatest thing on the planet and also a huge waste of time.
Aside from the fact that we try to fill every spare second with scrolling, there aren’t even a whole lot of activities anymore that are impossible to do while using the internet. You can use the elliptical and watch snippets from the previous night of late-night TV. You can cook and listen to a podcast. You can work and play music. You can even watch something on Netflix and scroll through Instagram at the exact same time. (I would also like to take this opportunity to say that although it is not impossible, there is never a reason to use the internet in any way while driving.) The fact that you clicked on this link and are reading it means that at least five minutes of your day will be spent scrolling and listening to my thoughts (and by posting the link to this page, I guess I am in some way asking you to).
All of this is something I’ve been thinking about lately. Then, this morning I read this post from walk in love. founder, T.J. Mousetis, and I realized that we give so much mental and emotional space to thoughts and ideas that aren’t ours that we leave zero space for thoughts and ideas that actually belong to us. We leave zero space for processing experiences, zero space for creative new ideas, and zero space for things that we don’t force feed ourselves from screens.
Now, I’m not necessarily suggesting we turn our phones off all the time, and I’m also not suggesting that we shouldn’t glean insights or knowledge from people who might have different perspectives or experiences as us. But, I am suggesting that we consider what it would be like if we didn’t constantly use our phones (or any kind of technology) to keep our brain space at maximum capacity.
It sometimes feels like we all have giant “FOR RENT” signs on our eyeballs and none of us have any standards for how much the tenants are paying. We’re putting up an apartment for rent in SF—a 2 bedroom, 2 bath with bay views, downtown access, and a PARKING SPOT—a place worth probably million dollars (only kind of joking) and renting it out for $1 a month. Our precious, creative, unique brain space is being majorly low-balled. And yes, now is also the time to consider how ironic it is that I told you to binge listen to a podcast and that this post was inspired by something that someone else thought of first. The point isn’t that everything we think about has to be original—but rather that we can’t have any original ideas of our own if we incessantly fill up on the internet nonsense of others.
I've been swimming a lot lately, and believe it or not, swimming is not generally an activity that you can do while reading, or while watch Brooklyn 99, or even while listening to music (yeah, yeah waterproof Bluetooth headphones probably exist, don’t @ me). In addition to providing excellent low-impact cardiovascular exercise, it gives me space to think and room to breathe (figuratively speaking, of course—breathing efficiently while swimming is an art form I have yet to master).
During today’s swim, it occurred to me that we spend so much time figuring out how to be the people we see on our screens, whether they’re fitness models or people who seem to be better at loving Jesus than us or people who have achieved some level of fame for whatever reason, that we completely lose track of what it means to be ourselves. It’s easy to look at Hollywood personalities and think about what life would be like if you had their talent or tenacity. It’s easy to look at the feeds of friends and wonder if your life would be much more exciting if it was theirs. It’s easy to see a fitness model say “I have a path for you that has X, Y, and Z guaranteed results,” and be fooled into thinking that the road to guaranteed results is one-size-fits-all. It’s easy to spend all of your time pretending that you’re in someone else’s shoes and forgetting about the pair you have on.
Not only have we stepped into the illusion that the lives of the people we follow or listen to are perfect and that their paths to wherever they’re going were easy, but even worse, we’ve stepped into the illusion that good or successful or happy people got there by copying the goodness, success, or happiness of others. If we spend all of our time and energy building who we are with the building blocks of other people, there’s not going to be a whole lot of room left for the actual building blocks of ourselves.
I am super guilty of all of this. I scroll on my commute, in the bathroom, in the car. I watch Brooklyn 99 any chance I get. I have so many thoughts running through my mind at all times about all things and I fence them in by stuffing myself with fluff, like Winnie the Pooh (still love you forever, Winnie the Pooh). I don’t have great answers and this is a pretty terrible conclusion. But, I’m taking an online course right now for fun and it feels good to use the internet in a way that helps me fills my brain with real, math-y things that I actually want to give space to. I’m starting a side project and it feels good to take ideas that I had and make them into something real. So turn your phone off or take an online course or bake a cake without Netflix or have a face-to-face conversation with a real person. And don’t forget to listen to Reply All.