The Beautiful Absurdity of Life

If you haven’t watched Bo Burnham’s new Netflix special, Inside, you need to go watch it. It is truly a work of art. I haven’t been able to stop singing/listening to his songs for days now. It is surprisingly profound and meaningful while also highlighting the hilarious absurdity of it all. It’s beautifully put together visually and musically. It is the perfect representation of the collective experience of humanity throughout the pandemic. It touches on so many important aspects from mental health to the unsettling advancements of technology to climate change to awareness of social issues.

The best part of the special in my opinion is that just when you start to feel weighed down by some of the heavier topics, he bursts into these little Jeff Bezos songs that absolutely kill me. It’s like, yes, the world is falling apart, your mental health is crumbling, life is full of stress and uncertainty and injustice and death, but hey, Jeffrey Bezos! He’s killing it. He’s doing great. Good for him. It’s too perfect. It’s a reminder that no matter how bad things get, we can still find so much to laugh about. We can still find amusement in the strangest places. We can step back and enjoy the delicious ridiculousness of it all.

Never lose sight of that sense of humor. I’m the first to admit that I have the tendency to take life far too seriously. I struggle to make even the most benign decisions because I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect. I’ve spent years stewing in anger and anxiety about things that I, ultimately, have no control over. While political and social issues are, of course, important, it’s not worth agonizing over every second. Planning and doing the work to improve your life and take good care of yourself matters, but not if you never actually take a moment to find joy in the simple things.

Above all, most of us want to be happy. We have a lot of ideas about what we need to do to ensure that we are and that we don’t “waste” this gift of life. But unfortunately at some point, we all lose sight of the reason we are doing all the things we do. We forget that while we may start with the best intentions, in the end, we don’t have to do anything to be happy, besides allow ourselves to be. We end up making ourselves miserable with the very things we began with the intention of making ourselves happy.

Despite all the pain and suffering in the world and all of my own personal issues, I still truly believe that joy and happiness are the true essence of life. We are all here to explore, learn, and enjoy. Laughter is one of the greatest gifts that we’ve been given. It would be a shame if we didn’t let ourselves have some every day. So make sure that you find time to laugh today! There are so many reasons to be depressed and anxious and angry, but despite it all, there are just as many reasons to be happy and grateful. It’s up to us where to place our focus. I, for one, want to make an effort to enjoy as many moments here as I can.

Inside,” Reviewed: Bo Burnham's Virtuosic Portrait of a Mediated Mind | The  New Yorker

Overriding the Algorithm

Everything that we consume becomes integrated, it all becomes a part of us. Whether its the food we eat, the things we drink, the substances we use, the physical atmosphere of the space around us, or even just the things we watch and listen to, all of these things effect us. Often in ways we don’t intend for them to. I’ve been contemplating this idea a lot lately. I’ve always been hyper aware of the things I put into my body. Although that doesn’t necessarily mean I make the right choices in that area often enough. My primary concern was always with the effects these things have on my weight and physical appearance. The subtler aspects of how what I consume effects my mental and emotional wellbeing always seem to remain largely overlooked.

Without looking at the scientific data showing correlation, it can be very difficult to even connect the way we feel with what we are consuming day to day. It is probably effecting us more than we realize, especially when it comes to anxiety disorders. In addition to cutting back on processed foods, artificial sweeteners, sugar, caffeine, and nicotine, I also want to start changing the content that I consume online. It would be interesting to make these changes just to see if I notice a difference. To log my mood and anxiety level throughout this process to try to gauge just how different I might feel without all of these harmful influences being so enmeshed in my life.

Knowing what I do now about the way our internet experience is basically tailor made for us by algorithms, I would like to try my hand at making that algorithm serve me instead of steer me. I’ve always been someone who enjoys the grittier side of movies and series. So the videos that are offered to me for easy access are primarily about murder mysteries, drug addiction, mental illness, homelessness, social injustice, civil unrest, etc. And while these topics are very interesting, they can also be very upsetting and depressing. When this is the only content that is readily available to you, it can start to feel like all that there is. I wonder how much of what I think and feel every day is directly impacted by this endless background noise of destruction, violence, and despair. Would I be a different person, would I think differently if I actively sought out different content?

One of the reasons the idea of the algorithm guiding our hand has been on my mind so much lately, is because of what’s currently happening on my Netflix account. Somehow I fell down a rabbit whole of watching English dubbed, foreign TV series. Don’t get me wrong, quite well-produced and intriguing stuff, but after awhile I get tired of the voiceover and the dialogue not lining up with the actors’ lip movements. Much to my dismay I seem unable to extricate myself from this issue. Netflix continues to suggest only these shows, and due to my general laziness I put up with watching another one rather than put any effort into finding a good American made show instead. Thus furthering Netflix’s propensity toward offering me foreign series and films. The algorithms that were created to assist us, eventually start to direct and limit our ability to make our own decisions. Only with great, intentional effort can we overcome this endless loop.

Another reason I am interested in the idea of changing the content I consume is to discover just how difficult it would actually be to do. How quickly would the algorithm adjust to a drastic change in interest? The only reason I haven’t done this sooner is because I enjoy the content I consume as I’m sure we all do. I don’t feel confident that I will be able to find more positive content that will interest me as much. I worry that I won’t be satisfied if I limit myself to only watching lighthearted, fluffy shows. I suppose if that ends up being the case, I can always transition away from it again. Perhaps I’d even be able to establish a nice balance between these opposing genres.

I’m going to do some investigating and see if there are any useful resources already out there online for ways to go about shifting your internet experience so that you are exposed to more uplifting content. It seems that someone must have already had the idea to consciously manipulate the algorithm for the benefit of their mental health already. It will be interesting to expose myself to a whole new side of the internet that has remained hidden from me until now. Who knows what I may uncover? I’ll be sure to make an update to this post once I implement this new plan and discover how this seemingly innocuous change effects me.

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Tito the Anxiety Mosquito

If you haven’t watched the animated Netflix series Big Mouth, then you need to. Especially if you were a fan of BoJack Horseman. I feel that both of these shows are surprisingly profound and insightful, while also being funny and entertaining. Also the meaningful themes within both shows seem to sneak up on you and catch you with your guard down in a way that really allows them to make an emotional impact.

While Big Mouth is about the trials and tribulations of adolescence, puberty, and growing up, it is also much more than just your every day “coming of age” story. No matter what age you are (hopefully 18 or older if you’re watching this show) you will be able to relate to each character on a personal level. To me, nothing is better than having complex, dualistic characters that truly reflect what it’s like to be a real person. These characters make huge mistakes, they act selfishly, they act cruelly, but they also learn and grow, they have personal struggles that go unseen by the others around them. Ultimately they are just trying, and often failing, to be good people. Just like we all are.

The reason I wanted to write about this show today though is because of a specific new character in the latest season, Tito. In previous seasons we were introduced to Kitty Beaumont Bouchet, the personification of depression. However, in the season four, we are finally given the personification of anxiety. Tito is a nasal voiced, pathetic, buzzing mosquito. He is both portrayed on his own and in a swarm depending on the intensity of the anxiety being experienced.

I am not sure why exactly, but ever since watching this new season, I have been obsessed with and excited by this character. It is one of those things that you see and can’t believe you never thought of it yourself. Tito is the perfect physical manifestation of how anxiety feels. The voice, the behavior, the insect chosen. All of these things are so accurate. Anxiety is just as annoying and persistent as a mosquito buzzing around your head, making more and more itchy little bumps on your skin and driving you insane despite countless attempts to swat it away. From this day forward, I am definitely going to be imagining that anxious voice in my head as Tito the Anxiety Mosquito.

I think that being able to visualize these aspects of ourselves as separate entities can be so helpful. It gives us space between ourselves and our anxiety or depression. It helps us to remember that we don’t have to take it so seriously. I have been getting a laugh out of imagining Tito chomping onto my neck while apologizing nervously. It’s a welcome relief when I am feeling overwhelmed by anxious thoughts.

The Social Dilemma

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The Social Dilemma is a new documentary on Netflix that everyone needs to see. It is a harrowing look at what social media and the internet in general are doing to us as individuals and society as a whole. I’ve long suspected that this new age of technology was having a deleterious effect on our brains, but never could I have imagined how serious it actually is.

We have been trapped under the wheels of a machine that we created and set into motion but now have no power to stop. The tropes about robots taking over and destroying humanity didn’t manifest in exactly the way we pictured it, but I would argue the age of AI overlords has already begun. We have become the victims of our own advancements. Our biology and slow rate of evolutionary change simply cannot keep up with and stay on top of the rapid growth of technology.

Our psychology is being used against us for the sole benefit of corporations and advertisers. This documentary points out that we are no longer the consumers. We are the products being sold. More specifically our attention is being sold. And it seems for the most part we are helpless to overcome the addictive nature of this new market. Not only that, while we feed into this system, society as a whole is becoming more and more anxious, depressed, and isolated from one another. This isn’t necessarily a purposeful outcome, yet it is an insignificant side effect for the people and algorithms running the show.

If you’d like some first hand evidence, try logging off of Facebook for a few weeks. I have been avoiding that site for over a year now. You wouldn’t believe the lengths the site has gone to try to reel me back in. I found it funny at first, seeing notifications for less and less relevant things when I did open the app. How desperate Facebook is to somehow regain my attention! But now I think it’s actually quite scary.

I will say I have felt much better mentally since I stopping using Facebook. I don’t spend nearly as much time on my phone for one thing. I am not weighed down by constant updates and online drama. I don’t waste time thinking up a status update or obsessively checking to see how many people liked it. It is freeing. I feel lighter now.

However, despite my success at overcoming the algorithm in that regard, I am still not completely free of the strong psychological drive to seek dopamine “rewards” online. For instance, I now post on here everyday. I do greatly look forward to seeing how many people like what I’ve written. Although I limit myself to checking my notifications once a day. I also still scroll my feed and post drawings on Tumblr. Not to mention I am perpetually watching either YouTube or Netflix all day long.

While I am able to remember, and think back fondly, on a time before the internet and social media, newer generations will not have this luxury. This new form of society is all they have ever known. Soon humanity will not even be able to conceive of a world without these detrimental influences.

I desperately long for the simplicity of my childhood spent away from screens, enjoying the real world. But even more than that, I pity the children of today. They have become victims without even realizing it. And what choice do they truly have? While disconnecting from our devices is liberating and beneficial in many ways, it is also extremely isolating in others. It is choosing to be apart from the rest of society in a major way. Even though it is better for your own mental health, it is also lonely, a virtual exile.

Ultimately I don’t know what the solution could be to this problem we’ve unwittingly created. Humans are forever hopeful. The executives that once had a hand in creating this new world seem to believe we can overcome it somehow. But I don’t know if I agree. I see it as just another sign of our rapidly advancing inevitable demise as a society and as a species. Although I sincerely hope I am wrong.

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