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Dear Social Media Junkies: Slow Down!

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us.

There are now billions of people worldwide whose minds have proven to be defenseless against the zombie making power of modern technology. Millennials today are engaging socially online, reading the news online, shopping online, creating political movements online, and revolutionizing the way that everyday activities are conducted on a huge scale. In and of itself, technology has the ability to transform life on earth for the better. At its worst, technology becomes the heroine to the unsure, at times self-loathing, clueless about relationships, ADD (not in the diagnosed sense of course), fearful, and too often unoriginal generation of users. The bad news is, it’s going to take a lot of work to get out of the checked out state that we are in. The good news is, through small and conscious real steps, we too can re-engage and contribute to our society in meaningful ways that do not involve a hashtag.

As I make my way through the corridor of my office in Downtown Chicago, I am inundated with what looks like it could be a scene from the movie Her. In the movie, a writer develops a deeply emotional relationship with his operating system (OS) to the detriment of his engagement with the real world. The film contains a stark message on the realities of life in the 21st century, where people look away from each other to find connections with things that aren’t truly real. The OS in the film represented social media, email, and text.  The featured images of zombie-like people roaming the streets heads in their phones, nearly bumping into each other at every turn are not too different from the way people look roaming the streets of my city. Sure we aren’t dating our phones, just yet, but we are addicted to Tinder and Grindr. At the risk of sounding like a soccer mom, it’s even scarier to admit the danger we put ourselves in while driving and engaging in the drug called technology. Ultimately, at the end of the movie, the OS dumps the main character, who paid good money for her, in pursuit of well, everything.

Today, we literally have everything at our fingertips. Advertisers and the media are banging down our virtual doors to tell us about everything we must have/do/think.  There are cookies in our internet browsers telling advertisers how and what to market to us. Social Media Analytic companies profit millions yearly because Twitter and Facebook take our zombie-like opinions and sell them to Big Data companies. These companies analyze everything we say online, and figure out how to sell us things. I’ll admit, sometimes I love when a cool ad comes up in my Facebook feed or Google page, that is related to something I am genuinely interested in. But, on the flipside, there are times when I’d like to scream because I can’t get away from ads for colleges that I do not even want to apply to, just because the cookies told the technology powers that be that I am a grad student. Just like the OS from the movie Her, we too are overwhelmed by everything offered to us within the virtual sphere to the detriment of our connection to what is real, and we end up letting ourselves and each other down, just as the OS let’s down Joaquin Phoenix’s character.

We consume products, advice, news, opinions, memes and ads for just about everything on an hourly sometimes minute-by-minute basis and in doing so, we lose our ability to decide what we want organically. Yes, it is nice to know the world is at our fingertips, but too often we are lulled into a false sense of community because everyone is online, but doing nothing. How often do we unplug the electronics, and let an organic unfiltered idea come to us? I can’t count the number of times in one night that my two-year-old is told, “Just one sec” while I mindlessly watch the next big animal video instead of just buying us our own pet to play with. Technology is not the problem, we are.

If it weren’t for our addiction to technology, we may have changed the entire world by now through the power of genuine conversations, travel, engaging with our neighbors and local friends, and being overall generous toward one another. Instead, we are inundated with things like #BlackTwitter, which is funny at times, but completely devoid of any real sensory value. Our physical senses cannot engage on Twitter the way that we could on a walk by the beach or a dinner party. Admittedly, there are some people who are better at managing technology and life than others, but, it seems as though most of us have a way to go.

Social media is great for connecting, but only if we are connecting virtually for a moment, in order to spur something that we are going to follow up on physically. Most things can’t or rather, shouldn’t solely be online. We can’t try clothing on online, a doctor can’t see your wound through a picture in the same way that he can examine it in real life, activists should not be regurgitating what the next person has said without investigating the issues for themselves, and the news should be researched and not passed on like a screwed up game of telephone where everyone jumps on a bandwagon and spreads overly opinionated nonsense. Like zombies, we have lost our ability to think, reason, use our senses, and separate from addictive technologies. Life would be ultimately better for millennials if we used technology to start the party and not make it the location of the party. We’ve got to do better.

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Elizabeth Aguirre is a technology professional with over 8 years experience working in the software industry.Currently Elizabeth is pursuing an M.S. in E-commerce at DePaul University and works as a consultant for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing in Chicago. She is on a one woman mission to empower small business owners through the use of technology.When she is not being a “cool mom” to her daughter Esther she enjoys and working on her personal web page, the Chitown Reikologist.